"left: Koffler House/Multi-Faith Centre, top right: Newman Centre/St. Thomas Aquinas, bottom right: Wolfond Centre"

A Tour of Faith (and a Lesson in Compassion)

I've always thought that the Multi-Faith Centre has been one of the divisions on campus that has created some of the most interesting programming. A lot of the groups and events that they host deal with issues of intersectionality in a way not many organizations do and that has always impressed me. When I heard of the Tour of Faith on Campus event, I jumped at the chance to attend--I knew I was in for another unique experience. (And what a great idea for an event, by the way!).
"left: Koffler House/Multi-Faith Centre, top right: Newman Centre/St. Thomas Aquinas, bottom right: Wolfond Centre"
Left: Koffler House/Multi-Faith Centre; top right: Newman Centre/St. Thomas Aquinas; bottom right: Wolfond Centre
We started our "Tour of Faith" at the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life on Harbord Street. While there were no services planned for the day that we could attend, we spent the time in the sanctuary with one of the campus rabbis who showed us some artifacts of her faith and talked a little bit about how modern Jewish faith manifests itself nowadays. After a quick lunch, we moved on to St. Thomas Aquinas Church at the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy & Parish for the 12:15pm Mass. A quick debrief afterwards allowed us to ask questions about what we had just experienced and discuss the Catholic faith as a whole. Our final stop was to the Jumu'ah Friday Prayer Service at the Multi-Faith Centre. Afterwards we had a similar debrief session with the imam who had been leading the prayers to discuss a little bit about Islam and his personal journey in this faith. To be honest, there are so many different directions I could go here in talking about my experience during that day, but I'll just share a few musings and memories that I had.
  • During the Mass, as the priest took a second to welcome our multi-faith group to the service he jokingly said that someone would do a "song and dance" for us after the service (he was referring to the debrief/discussion session we would have afterwards). The girl beside me turned to me and asked "Does he mean she's actually going to dance for us?" I laughed a little inside, but then realised that I would be just as clueless if I was attending a service in a religion I was less familiar with (though I'm not Catholic, this wasn't the first time I've attended a Catholic Mass). It was definitely a reminder to myself that I should be more mindful of these things.
Interior of St. Thomas Aquinas Church
St. Thomas Aquinas Church
  • What I was struck by was the initial uneasiness I had in attending a service or visiting a space that was tied to a certain faith community. I am not a member of any of the faith communities that we had visited on that day and being invited to another community's sacred time and space was quite uncomfortable at the beginning. It felt like I was intruding on a personal moment (and in some ways, I guess I was). However, the openness that our tour group was greeted with at each stop was quite touching. Being "allowed" to stand when the Torah was taken out, or to share the peace during Mass, or to wear an optional head covering during the Jumu'ah prayer service was a lesson in compassion and inclusion.
Jewish Torah scroll
One of the Torahs in the Wolfond Centre sanctuary. (c) Ysabelle G.
"Jewish prayer shawls"
Jewish prayer shawls
The artwork imprinted on the windows of the sanctuary in the Wolfond Centre.
There's artwork imprinted on the windows of the sanctuary in the Wolfond Centre, in a tribute to Jewish history.
  • It wasn't just the members of our tour who got an education. At various points we were stopped by bystanders who asked what we were doing--some of them were members of the respective faith communities we visited, some were not. Most of them remarked on what a great idea of an event it was. The conversations that arose from those encounters made me realise just how rare of an occurrence these conversations actually are. I think living in a such a diverse city, I can take for granted the exposure I get to different cultures and communities. In actuality, I stay in my own community for the most part and don't take an effort to really engage with, not just tolerate, communities much more different than mine.
Muslim Friday Prayers: a group of people facing front preparing for prayer, some sitting some standing
During the Jumu'ah (Friday) Prayers.
Multi-Faith Centre room being used as a Muslim prayer room, rugs laid on the floor.
This service took place on the 2nd floor of the Multi-Faith Centre. (c) Ysabelle G.
  • Continuing on from that point... I came away from that day realising just how much I don't pay enough attention to what's going on around me. I live literally (yes, I'm using this word correctly) steps away from a Russian Orthodox church and have never really thought much about it or interacted with anyone there. During high school I lived in a predominantly Muslim country and heard the sounds of the Friday prayers being broadcast from the mosque (they could be heard for miles) and never really stopped to actually listen to them the way I did during the service I attended during the tour. There's so much going on around me that I reduce to "background noise" and that's a shame, because I could probably learn a thing or two by just paying attention once in a while.
As I'm writing this I realise I can continue on for a bit, but I'll just leave you with a thought that was shared during the tour that has really stayed with me:
Every vessel can only pour what's in it.
Fostering compassion and empathy in ourselves means that we are then able to "pour" that compassion out to others. And we are only able to fill ourselves with these traits by really engaging with communities that are not our own, not just putting up with or tolerating them.
The organizations mentioned here were: There are certainly many more religious and spiritual communities on campus than are represented in this post! To get involved you can get in touch with a campus chaplain in your denomination or reach out to one of the many student groups (search for spirituality and faith communities on all three campuses at Ulife).  

2 comments on “A Tour of Faith (and a Lesson in Compassion)

  1. Dear Phoebe,
    Thank you for a very insightful article!! You captured the essence of what we’re trying to undertake here at the Multi-Faith Centre, namely to engage students from different world views in opportunities for mutual understanding and respect.

    Thank you for taking the time to participate in the tour and writing such a thoughtful reflection.

    Best Regards,
    Richard Chambers
    U of T Multi-Faith Centre

    1. Thanks Richard! I had a great time. I look forward to seeing you at other Multi-Faith Centre events in the future. Send my regards to the student organizers as well – they did a fantastic job.


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