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Anglicans reach out to Muslim neighbours with peace, love

By Stuart Mann and Martha Holmen

Angela Forbes took part in a “ring of peace” outside a mosque in Toronto’s west end on Feb. 3 to show her support for Muslims following the deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque a few days earlier.

“This is an amazing experience,” said Ms. Forbes, a member of St. Anne, Gladstone Avenue in Toronto as she stood with about 250 Christians, Jews, Muslims and others as worshippers entered the mosque for Friday prayers. “There’s so many people and so much love being expressed.”

The Rev. Gary van der Meer, centre, holds a sign as the “ring of peace” forms around the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre. Photos by Michael Hudson.

Ms. Forbes was one of hundreds of Anglicans across the diocese who took part in events and organized gatherings in support of Muslims in the days after the Quebec City shooting, which left six dead and 19 injured.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere that Christ tells us to just sit back and let things happen,” she said. “We’re called to be voices and get out there and express what we believe in through our presence. That’s why we’re Christians. I’ve always believed that if you can, you should. You make whatever effort you can.”

The “ring of peace” outside of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre on Bloor Street – one of seven held in Toronto on Feb. 3 – was organized by the Rev. Gary van der Meer, the incumbent of St. Anne’s, and Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of nearby City Shul synagogue. It was held with the support of the mosque.

“We want to be in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to express our common humanity, and we’ve invited our neighbours to come and do that with us,” said Mr. van der Meer. “We’re here to greet Muslims as they come in with a smile or a handshake or to say hello. We’re here to say we support you and to be in solidarity with each other.”

The idea was inspired by a group of Muslims in Oslo, said Rabbi Goldstein. In 2015, as Jewish communities across Europe were reeling from anti-Semitic attacks in France and Denmark, Muslims organized to stand guard around the synagogue in Oslo while those inside offered Sabbath prayers.

Students from Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School share messages of solidarity with their Muslim neighbours.

“I was very moved by that and I said it’s time for us to pay it forward,” said Rabbi Goldstein. “The Jewish community has to come out and be in support of the Muslim community. I think the world thinks Muslims and Jews should not be supportive of each other and we needed to break that stereotype.”

Many in the crowd carried signs that read “We Stand with our Muslim Neighbours,” “Interfaith Support for All” and “Jews and Christians United.” The line of supporters stretched down the sidewalk and continued on the other side of the street. Cars and trucks honked their horns in support. Among those in attendance were 40 pupils from a Jewish day school.

Rabbi Goldstein said it was important that faith groups responded to the Quebec City massacre. “If we don’t love our neighbour as ourselves, who’s going to?” she asked. “It’s that simple. We’re the ones who preach this, and if we don’t practice it, then the world is in a sorry state.”

She spoke for many in the crowd when she said, “This is Canada. These are our values. We have to pray with our feet and make it happen. It’s beautiful to see everyone come out. It’s really beautiful and respectful – the way things are meant to be.”

Both Mr. van der Meer and Rabbi Goldstein were invited into the mosque to speak to worshippers before prayers began. Mr. van der Meer spoke about “the inappropriateness and impossibility of walls” and the need to take them down.

People form a “ring of peace” in front of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre.

Like St. Anne’s, churches throughout the diocese responded to the attack in Quebec City with love and support for the Muslim community. As news of the tragedy spread on the morning of Jan. 30, dozens of churches took to social media to post messages of prayer for the dead, the wounded and the wider Muslim community. Information about inter-faith events and vigils happening in cities and towns across the diocese was also shared widely among Anglicans online.

Bishop Peter Fenty joined in the outpouring of grief and support, sharing a statement of solidarity on behalf of the diocese:

“We believe that ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, … love never ends’ (1 Cor. 13: 7-8). Hatred does not win, and we must by our living overcome hatred with love.

“We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community in Quebec City, here in Toronto and in all our communities, as we grieve with them. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are obligated ‘to strive for peace and justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.’ Let us model that behaviour every day with the hope that others may be inspired and influenced in the same way.”

Some Anglicans also reached out directly to their Muslim neighbours. The Rev. Canon Eric Beresford of St. Timothy, North Toronto and the Rev. Daniel Brereton of St. John the Baptist (Dixie) in Mississauga each wrote a letter to his local mosque, offering support and prayer. After Mr. Brereton hand-delivered his letter, a Muslim man asked him to stay and join him in his prayers.

Along with messages of support, churches such as St. Mary, Schomberg and Church of the Redeemer, Bloor St. opened their doors for anyone who wished to stop in and pray. Many others in Mississauga, Uxbridge, Fenelon Falls, Peterborough, Toronto and beyond planned prayer vigils in the following days.

The Rev. Timothy Taylor. assistant curate at St. John, York Mills, holds a sign of support.

One such church was St. Peter, Cobourg, whose members organized a candlelight vigil of reflection and prayer on Jan. 31. Candles were lit for each of the six victims, and their names were read aloud. The vigil was sponsored by Interfaith Northumberland, a group that includes representatives from local Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities.

“Many came from different faiths and from many denominations of Christianity,” said Suzanne Lawson, a member of St. Peter’s who helped organize the vigil. “All this happened when the word went out at noon on Tuesday, and the vigil was at seven, thanks to social media.”

The Rev. Canon Douglas Graydon, coordinator of chaplaincy services for the diocese and honorary assistant at St. John, West Toronto, was among those who attended a vigil near Gerrard St. E. and Coxwell Ave. in Toronto on the evening of Jan. 30. “My neighbourhood mosque is small, hidden away on a side street off the always-busy Gerrard Street,” he said. “With only a few hours of notice, over 1,000 of my neighbours gathered in front of that mosque in a rally of solidarity and grief.”

Imam Noor Irkakar offered blessings to the crowd, who held candles or carried banners of peace, solidarity and support for immigrants and refugees. Religious leaders from many of the nearby communities of faith were present.

“These were my neighbours who came out on a cold winter’s night to show love and compassion for their neighbour, regardless of land of origin or faith. But were we also standing witness to the value of being each other’s neighbour,” said Canon Graydon. “It was for me a reminder that love always triumphs over hate, and that we as a neighbourhood, or nation, value all people.”