The Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage this year went something other than planned.
The snow came and stayed, so our walking route became somewhat impassable with snow covering many of the sidewalks and trails. Driving was treacherous, so many who would otherwise have driven wisely chose to stay home. I arrived at our starting point at about 9:30 and knew the day was probably a write-off.
David Dalley, the person who organized the event, was there when I got to the Thien Ton Buddhist Temple. We agreed that it was not a safe situation and decided to call the Pilgrimage off. However, a family of three (Robert, Andrea and their eight year old daughter Sofi) had already shown up to take part and wanted to continue. They had heard about the pilgrimage on the Early Edition on CBC. None of us really wanted to drop out, so we decided we could do as much of the pilgrimage as possible.
We drove to the Laxmi Narayama Hindu Mandir on 140th Street where we were welcomed and served a hot lunch. Our hosts graciously showed us the temple room and explained the significance of the temple and the deities enshrined within it. We were allowed to take pictures and observe some of the ceremonies conducted.
From there we took a short walk to the Gurdwara Sahib of Brookside where we were given a tour of the facility and served tea and sweets. Our guide Surinder kindly explained different facets of the Gurdwara and made us feel at home. We left there and made our way to the Surrey Jamea Muslim Masjid on 72nd Avenue.
The folks at the Masjid gave us a warm welcome. One of the ladies there gave us a very interesting explanation of the Islamic faith and its adherents. She explained the reasoning behind the segregation of males and females. We were informed that not all Muslims practiced the same form of Islam, and that many cultures changed the faith to suit their own traditions.
The next part of the visit was very special for me. The Imam welcomed us and told us how the Muslim community appreciated the response of Canadians to the Quebec City tragedy. It was here that I was so very touched. The Imam explained that until that time and the ready outpouring of grief by fellow Canadians, they felt that they were outsiders of a sort. They were struck in one of the hearts of their faith and, instead of seeing apathy, they saw only the sadness of fellow citizens who shared their loss. They saw the love and warmth directed towards them by millions of brothers and sisters from across Canada.
They had discovered they are indeed members of this wonderful multicultural family we have in Canada.
And what a beautiful feeling that was for me. I was able to take part in this awakening, if only for a short time. It is truly one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.
The final stop on this year’s Pilgrimage was the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara on 120th Street. The kind people there gave us supper, and invited us take part in the ceremonies. I noted that the practices in this Gurdwara differed in some ways from those of the Sahib of Brookside. I think it is a good example of how humans seem to feel the need to find their own explanations of how this journey of life can work.
Our journey today was very special in a number of ways. While we had to cancel the original plan, there were still a few people who were able to do the Pilgrimage and insisted that we carry on. We actually picked up three more participants along the way. Rather than it being a failure, the Pilgrimage turned into a victory!
The welcome we received at each house of worship was heartfelt and genuine. People of different faiths showed that they are more alike than different, and they are willing to offer their hospitality to any who are interested. It was much like folks inviting us into their houses for a coffee.
Visiting them in their houses of worship and breaking bread with them gave us a chance to get to know them as fellow human beings. They were able to view us as fellow travellers who were willing to experience their culture and take part in some of their traditions.
Most importantly of all, the day helped to reinforce our collective feeling of family and kinship regardless of where we came from or where we worship.