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Interfaith project strengthening bridges

When meeting strangers or acquaintances, religion, like politics, is a topic people generally steer clear of in friendly, polite conversation.

But greater understanding of different faiths and cultures only comes through discussion so a project is taking steps towards that conversation in Burnaby, hosting a community dialogue on Nov. 29.

Dubbed the Strengthening Interfaith Bridges in Burnaby project, it's being led by the Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table, a group of people from all sectors of the community working together to support immigrants, refugees and newcomers to Burnaby.

It builds on what was learned from a 2010 project to build interfaith bridges, and is  the second one funded by Embrace BC, a provincial program to build inclusive communities and eliminate racism.

The first project discovered there is much interest in learning more about different faiths in Burnaby and finding ways to work together, said project coordinator Jan Taylor.

There has been interfaith work in areas such as the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness, where they come together for a common goal, but leaders from different faith groups said it's difficult to reach out to people from other religions to  simply learn about each other, Taylor said.

"This project is about overcoming misconceptions, creating understanding, building some awareness of commonality between faiths."

Most people would say their reasons for practising their faith are the same as the person sitting beside them who might practise a different faith, Taylor said.

"When be bring people together there isn't a lot of discussion—there isn't actually any discussion really—about international politics and faith or some of the more controversial issues people might think about faith. Those are things that may be discussed at some future point. Right now we're focused on bringing people together who are faith practitioners and who want to live their faith in Burnaby."

The idea is to build relationships and enough trust that people will eventually feel comfortable to talk about their differences and through that, to gain the interfaith understanding they're seeking.

"We're starting with what do we all believe, how do we want to live that, how do we want to live that that makes Burnaby a better place and then we will go from there," she said.

"There are a group of people who want to talk about their faith but on some level think that discussing religion is a really dangerous thing to do. If we can get past that sense of it being a really dangerous thing to do, then what we find is people get excited about how much we have in common with other faiths but also really come to understand some of the differences and what some of the differences are based in."

An interfaith dialogue event will be held on Thursday, Nov. 29, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Tommy Douglas library branch, 7311 Kingsway, Burnaby.

Panelists Lindsey bat Joseph of the Sol Mark Centre for Jewish Excellence, Wanda Mulholland of the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness and Yasmin Jamal, a member of the Ismaili community, will discuss the importance of faith and of different faiths working together in the community.

The event is free and everyone is welcome but pre-registration is required at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/C7HRNBH.

Additional community dialogue sessions and a forum will be held in the new year. Info: www.bipt.ca.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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