From June 28-30, five Baha’is joined a group of 75 young people in Ottawa to participate in a conversation about the role of religion in Canadian common life, the importance of religious freedom, and the true nature of pluralism. Participants in the gathering came from across the country and from diverse religious backgrounds. On the eve of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations, the Faith in Canada 150 Millennial Summit sought to stimulate reflection among young people of faith on the significant role religion has played in shaping Canadian society, the role it continues to play in the lives of the titular generation, and the potential it has for making a powerful and unique contribution to the common good in future years.
The delegates from the Baha’i community were selected from among many young people who applied to participate in the Millennial Summit. They contributed in a variety of ways to the gathering, including one who served on the organizing committee. The Summit, as well as the Faith in Canada 150 project as a whole, was organized and hosted by Cardus, a Canadian think tank, in collaboration with a variety of other organizations and individuals, including the Baha’i Community of Canada.
One of the overriding themes of the gathering was the value of questions in bringing the role of faith out from the confines of individual private life into public consciousness through open dialogue. Throughout the program, small groups engaged in lively discussion framed by questions like “What does it mean to be a millennial who is faithful?” “Do millennials have a different understanding of private and public faith?” “How do we address faith on the fringes, such as extremism and how it enters the public space?” “How do we confront secularism and relativism and the drive to absolute autonomy in our society?”
“The emphasis on dialogue at the gathering helped to avoid the pitfalls of focusing on differences between participants, and helped to focus on issues of broader common concern,” said Eric Farr, one of the participants from the Baha’i community. “People were thinking deeply about important questions related to what we can all contribute to the public square.”
Many delegates commented on the Summit’s warm environment, the high quality of conversation, and the genuine friendships that were formed. Laura Friedmann, one of the participants who served on the organizing team, said, “This summit stands out to me as one full of authentic conversations where participants were genuinely interested in sharing their deep thoughts and concerns and creating lasting friendships.”
Another significant theme that was explored both in discussion, and reflected throughout the conference, was the nature and content of one’s participation in public discourse. In a contemporary public sphere, people of different faiths can make distinctive contributions by bringing religion’s moral and spiritual insights to bear on issues of public concern through the rich and compelling language of their traditions. “These contributions can assume greater relevance and distinctiveness when they avoid associating with narrow categories of “progressive” and “conservative” that so often frame public discourse today,” commented Farr. Instead, he reflected, they should endeavour to embody a spirit of humility and hope in the possibility of meaningful social change that is an enduring characteristic of religion.
The summit concluded with encouraging remarks from several members of Cardus’ staff and leadership, including Hannah Marazzi, the key project lead on the Millennial Summit, and Dr. Andrew Bennett, a senior research fellow at Cardus and Canada’s former Ambassador of Religious Freedom. Ujarak Apadoo, a Baha’i youth from Montreal, was able to leave the summit with inspiring words from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, leading the delegates in singing a few verses that, in many ways, embodied the collective spirit and aspirations of the summit: “O Lord God! Make us as waves of the sea, as flowers of the garden, united, agreed through the bounties of Thy love.”
UPDATE: an e-book developed by Faith in Canada 150, which summarizes statements from the summit can be found here: Millenial Summit Legacy Book