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Harmony in Halifax

February 1st, 2017 by Jennifer Neutel

This story also appears in Convivium.

When the UN kicks off its World Interfaith Harmony Week today, the people of Halifax will know their city has been put on the map as a model of religious diversity and openness.

Haligonians will get to celebrate Feb 1 to 7 with the rest of the interfaith world, but they can also take pride in knowing they were chosen in the top three participants of 2016. Last year, 816 events and more than 80 prize applications marked UN interfaith work in 2016. Two members of the Halifax committee travelled to Jordan’s Royal Court last spring to receive the recognition from His Majesty King Abdullah II.

To make the prize even sweeter, 2016 was the first time Nova Scotia officially proclaimed World Interfaith Harmony Week, which is observed annually in the first week of February. Unanimously adopted by the UN in 2010, its purpose is to provide diverse faith communities and goodwill groups a platform to share their traditions in an open and respectful atmosphere.

“That’s a map-making moment in the world,” says Jim Torbert, member of Interfaith Harmony Halifax’s planning committee.

“There is an overarching view among everyone participating that this sets a really good example to the world,” Torbert says. “This is a tribute to the openness, generosity, kindness and appreciation of the diversity.”

This year, the Halifax group has even more participation amongst the sacred hosts helping with the organization. There’s a sense more people are getting involved.

Halifax participants will be asked to consider how to extend the week’s interfaith conversations year-round. During the celebration event attendees will take part in talking circles with the open question: “What can you bring from this week’s experience back to your community?”

Sacred Spaces events are being held throughout the week allowing people to observe, meet and engage with various communities including Aboriginal, Baha’i, Brahma Kumaris, Shambhala, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, Quakers, Sikh, Taoist, and Unitarian Universalist.

Participants can register for an Interfaith Engagement Certificate Program, a week-long experiential engagement that includes visiting a minimum of three sacred spaces, keeping a reflective journal and attending pre-and post sessions to reflect on the experiences.

Organizations are invited to endorse a Declaration of Interfaith Peace and Friendship with their logos. Last year, about 30 organizations took part and the hope is to have 50 this year. Groups have come on board as sponsors.

Interfaith Harmony Halifax considers its resources and website open source. For other cities considering hosting an Interfaith Harmony Week, Torbert offers this advice: Get every tradition at the table, bring together an organizing body, map out what you want to do, and don’t try to do too much.

“You don’t need everyone on board but you do need a critical mass, and then the conversation shifts and this can then make Halifax a more inviting place for people to want to come, live, raise their families and find work,” he says.

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