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Religiously diverse Edmonton welcomes visit from Pope Francis

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EDMONTON, Alta. (AP) — As Pope Francis makes a historic visit to Canada, he encounters a country that is…

EDMONTON, Alta. (AP) — As Pope Francis makes a historic visit to Canada, he encounters a country that is less Catholic, more secular and more religiously diverse than the last time he welcomed a pontiff two years ago. decades.

And the city where he landed on Sunday – Edmonton – reflects that diversity more than outsiders might expect from a provincial capital in the heart of the Canadian prairies.

Edmonton and its province of Alberta have a large population of long-established Christians of European descent.

But Alberta has also had a religiously and ethnically diverse population since its founding in the early 20th century as a province, when small groups of Sikh immigrants arrived and Lebanese Muslims started the Al- Rashid, considered the oldest in the country. Its original red-brick structure now stands in a city park featuring historical exhibits.

“We always think of Ontario when we think of diversity,” said Noor Al-Henedy, the mosque’s public relations director. “No one ever thinks that (Alberta is) such a diverse land with so many ethnic groups, so many religious groups that have lived here for a long time. “

The Edmonton metropolitan area’s population of 1.1 million was about 59% Christian, 26% Catholic, in 2011, according to the most recent Canadian census figures on religious demography.

About 10% belonged to other religious groups, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus or Buddhists. Their presence is reflected in multiple mosques, gurdwaras and temples in the region.

Another 31% said no religion.

These figures are taken nationally. Across Canada, the 2011 census found 67% Christian, with 39% Catholic, 9% belonging to other religions and 24% having none.

That’s fewer Christians overall and fewer Catholics than in the 2001 census, a year before St. John Paul II’s last papal visit to Canada. During this decade, other religious and secular populations developed.

A 2018 Pew Research Center report indicates that these trends have continued in recent years, as they have done to a less rapid extent in the United States.

The Reverend John Dowds, Edmonton City Chaplain, has seen these changes in “the increase in people from other traditions who really need to find a specific place at a specific time of day to offer prayer “.

Dowds, a Presbyterian minister, has worked to create “sacred spaces” in workplaces around the city for people of all faiths to pray or meditate.

The very existence of his position – the only municipal chaplaincy he knows of in Canada, an extension of his role as fire department chaplain – speaks to Edmonton’s awareness of its diverse faith communities. He and other members of the city’s wellness team counsel people of all faiths or none.

That advice may have a spiritual component, “but we don’t narrow that spiritual part down to something specific,” Dowds said. “It can be as broad as having a conversation about ‘Who am I and…what drives me and where do I want to go with my life?'”

The Edmonton Interfaith Center for Education and Action has provided training and cooperation among several religious and secular groups.

The center and city host a rotating exhibit of information about different religions — for July, it’s Zoroastrianism — in the city hall‘s lighted atrium.

Dowds acknowledged that there are challenges, including instances of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. “I think we counteract that,” he said, by “approaching assertively and then inviting opportunities for dialogue.”

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi added that, in a city with a large indigenous population, some residents may not have a “deep understanding of the struggle that indigenous communities face”, given the history of colonization and the culturally repressive boarding schools. This problem is addressed “through education, interreligious dialogue, intercultural dialogue”, he said.

These questions are at the heart of Pope Francis’ visit to Alberta. On Monday, he issued a formal apology for decades of abuse of Indigenous children in the church-run boarding schools they were forced to attend.

Sohi, who immigrated here from India four decades ago, is the first person of Sikh descent and the first person of color to be elected mayor. Although he experienced prejudice at first, “it’s also a community that raised me, that provided me with resources” to help him succeed, and he now wants to help create similar opportunities for The new comers.

As a sign of interfaith cooperation, volunteers to help with Pope Francis’ visit came from the local Muslim community, the Salvation Army and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

More than 200 members of the latter have signed up for tasks such as the coordination of park-and-ride lots.

“Religious groups look out for each other,” said John Craig, a church elder who oversees an area that includes Alberta.

The church has taken similar steps, he said, such as offering one of its buildings as a rest station along a Sikh parade route and providing supplies to refugees through a Ukrainian Catholic church.

A Salvation Army crew served meals to workers preparing Lac Ste. Place of pilgrimage of Anne for the visit of François.

“It will be a historic moment in Canada,” said Capt. Peter Kim, pastor of the Salvation Army Church community in Grand Prairie, Alberta. “We are blessed just to be a part of it.”

Within the Christian population, indigenous ministries and recent immigration have stimulated ethnic and denominational diversity. Catholics celebrate Mass in at least 16 languages ​​in the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

Worshipers used the English and Cree liturgy at the recent dedication of a restored shrine at the Church of the Sacred Heart of the First Peoples, a Catholic parish oriented toward Indigenous peoples and culture. The Eritrean faithful, who also have regular masses in the church, contributed a poignant and rhythmic hymn in their own language.

“There is a similar culture, especially in the Mass,” said Simon Tekle, from Eritrea. “It’s very similar with the drums.”

At the end of the service, Aboriginal drummers sang vigorously outside the church. Across the street, onlookers watched curiously from the steps of a Pentecostal church with roots in Nigeria. In adjacent blocks, others worshiped in a Ukrainian Catholic parish and a Lutheran church with a liturgy in Danish.

The Sikh population began to grow in the 1960s and 1970s through immigration. Sikh elders say they were victims of prejudice and vandalism early on.

“The local community, I don’t think they knew who we were,” said Surinder Singh Hoonjanbut, a Sikh community leader. But he said that changed a lot as the Sikh population grew, interacted with neighbors and engaged in community service.

Additionally, a growing awareness of issues such as the indigenous experience helps to develop a more general multicultural awareness, said Gagan Kaur Hoonjan, a member of the Sikh community.

“Movements that help one group be understood open everyone’s mind to conversations for other communities,” she said.

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