We had a Ring of Peace in Toronto following the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017, and another following the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. In the space of a month this year, we’ve had two more – a ring around mosques following the shootings in New Zealand, and another around churches following the terrible explosions in Sri Lanka.
I’m standing in a long row or “ring” of people in Toronto with Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of City Shul and Imam Shabir Ally of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre. We are carrying a sign that includes the logos of all three of our congregations: City Shul, Islamic Information & Dawah Centre, and St. Anne, Toronto. We are together in friendship for our fourth Ring of Peace.
In this ring, we are joined by a growing circle of congregations and friends to be with the people of Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Parish in Toronto; members of the Sri Lankan community are a significant presence in this congregation. For the first time, Hindu and Sikh representatives stand with us, as do members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We hold our signs of support. Some drivers honk in encouragement. We stand in quiet conversation, sing songs, and in silence. We provide a clear path into the church for members of the community coming for mass.
We are invited into the church for a vigil. Some enter to hear and share fellowship. For others, the quiet witness on the street is enough. Inside the church, we are addressed by Cardinal Collins, Bishop Andrew Asbil and many others. We hear reflections, prayers and words of encouragement. The hardest part is a first-hand account by Roshanthini Rajju. In tears, she tells us about her family who were in the cathedral in Colombo and were injured during the explosion.
It feels terrible to say it, but we are starting to have a formula for a Ring of Peace. We invite our emerging network of partner congregations. We invite our friends on social media. We contact the police for traffic safety and the media to come and share our public witness. We take pictures. Afterwards, we eat together. People mix freely and have what might be their first conversations with a person of another religion. The great opportunity of a Ring of Peace is that it gives us a way to stand beside someone of another faith and build friendship.
This week, there is another shooting. This time it’s at a synagogue in California. Even if we say we know how to do it, can we summon the emotional energy for another Ring of Peace less than a week after the last one? Rabbi Goldstein commented: “My immediate reaction: oh no, not another Ring of Peace. Not because the rings aren’t beautiful and not because they aren’t meaningful. Quite the opposite: because they are becoming too standard, too normal, and too easy. I can now ‘push a button’ and they are organized, publicized and successful. And I hate that.”
As these Rings of Peace spread across Toronto, it’s time to look for deeper results, even though the rings are deeply appreciated. Our diocese’s new Interfaith Committee did a survey of parish leaders and learned that many of our Anglican parishes have no connection to a congregation of another faith. A first opportunity for friendship with someone of another faith is a beautiful beginning. The deeper challenge is going upstream and connecting with isolated people before they become radicalized into anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian violence. We want to learn about and address the deeper causes.
Please reach out to me if you’re also interested as we reach out in shared interfaith witness to those who are isolated. May the day come when interfaith friendships, not interfaith Rings of Peace, help bring an end to violent extremism.
The Rev. Canon Gary van der Meer is the diocese’s interfaith officer and the incumbent of St. Anne, Toronto.