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Queen’s Park prayer vigil raises up the cause of the poor

People of faith pray at Queen's Park. Photo by Michael Hudson

By Murray MacAdam

Despite bitter cold, 60 people of faith lifted up the cause of the poor at an interfaith prayer vigil on the lawn of Queen’s Park on April 24. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Unitarian and Zoroastrian faith leaders led prayers. About 15 Anglicans from parishes from Oshawa to Hamilton took part.

The vigil, organized by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC), was held as the Ontario Legislature was voting on the province’s 2012 budget, which was passed. Following negotiations between the minority Liberal government and the NDP, the budget was revised to include a 1 per cent increase in social assistance rates, as well as extra funds for child care, along with a surtax on those earning more than $500,000. However, the 1 per cent increase does not keep pace with inflation, meaning that the poorest people in the province will fall even deeper into poverty during the coming year. Some 880,000 Ontarians live on either disability or welfare incomes.

For Scott Riley, a member of St. Martin, Bay Ridges, the vigil affirmed God’s power. “Prayer to me is the biggest part of social justice,” he said. “We can’t do anything without God’s involvement. We’re messengers; the rest is up to God.” Added Ted Glover, from St. George, Oshawa: “It is a moral, biblical and social imperative that we reach out to the marginalized. Those we elected need to be told that we want change to help people in poverty.”

The Rev. Susan Eagle, the chair of ISARC and a United Church minister, opened the vigil by acknowledging the modest gains made for low-income people in the budget, but noted that “there’s much in the budget that leaves us saddened. Social assistance rates in 2012 will make the poor in our communities even poorer.” The vigil was held with three groups of people in mind: MPPs; vigil participants; and the poor themselves. Ms. Eagle recalled that at an ISARC gathering, a woman living in poverty pleaded: “Please do not abandon us.” That’s a message the religious community must heed, she said.

Participants held unlit candles as a symbol of how low incomes leave the poor, who are often unable to heat their homes or apartments, and are sometimes literally left in the dark.

Faith leaders drew upon the holy texts of their faiths as they prayed for justice for the poor. In his prayer, Lutheran Bishop Michael Pryse raised the plight of those leading insecure lives, or who have lost jobs. He also called for fairness in taxation.

Rabbi Stephen Wise cited the calls to justice found in the books of Isaiah and Leviticus, then noted the stumbling blocks that society places before people trying to climb out of poverty. “We have the power to feed the entire province. We need to use our power justly.”

In her prayer, the Rev. Maggie Helwig, chair of the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy Committee, mentioned the needs of the sick, the disabled, people without a warm home, refugees, and all those exhausted by daily survival. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. Those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 3:17-18).

As light snow began falling, the vigil group joined hands for a final quiet prayer. Ms. Eagle urged the crowd not to lose hope, saying: “When people of goodwill act together, the principalities and powers don’t stand a chance.”

See also: Current Activities of the Diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy Committee