Surrey Pilgrims Show Solidarity Through the Snow

Organizers of the Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage share how faith-to-faith harmony can strengthen a community

Participants braved the snow for the Surrey’s annual interfaith pilgrimage on Feb. 3. (Ethan Vanderleek)

A diverse group of pilgrims trekked through the Surrey snow on Feb. 3 as part of the fourth annual interfaith pilgrimage.

The event—a partnership between Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Multi-Faith Centre, Surrey’s Bahá’í Community, and the Surrey Interfaith Council—brought people of various religions together to promote cooperation and unity.

Participants walked a total of 16 kilometres throughout the day. They stopped at Christian, Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim places of worship to meet community members and join in prayer.  Brookside Gurdwara, a Sikh temple on 140 Street, even hosted the pilgrims for lunch.

The pilgrimage ended at the KPU Surrey campus, where the pilgrims were addressed by the university’s Elder in Residence, Lekeyten.

“The event today is a chance to explore other religious traditions,” says Ethan Vanderleek, a Christian Chaplain at the KPU Multi-Faith Centre, who co-organized the event. “It’s an expression of cooperation and solidarity across lines of division.”

Vanderleek says that, while we all come from different backgrounds and worldviews, this should not limit cooperation with each other. He believes that by finding common ground, we can work together to create a better world.

The theme for this event was neighbourliness, or being more “open and hospitable and less fearful and suspicious,” according to Vanderleek.

He also makes it clear that non-religious people have a place in the pilgrimage and at the KPU Multi-Faith Centre. He says that they are welcome to participate in their activities and be exposed to different faiths and religious traditions.

“If one person believes in God and the other doesn’t, it shouldn’t be a barrier to friendship and cooperation,” says Vanderleek.

Above all else, he emphasizes finding common ground in areas like social justice and peace and urges people to “resist the fear that comes from not knowing each other.”

Connie Waterman, who has been on the Surrey Interfaith Council since 2011, also co-organized the pilgrimage and describes it as “a great way to know the community.”

In just five days she was able to organize the first inaugural pilgrimage as a response to terror attacks in Beirut and Paris. The pilgrimage is now hosted every year in celebration of the United Nations World Interfaith and Harmony Week.

Waterman says she enjoys hearing people talk about their lives and perspectives while walking, and that her heart is warmed by the hospitality that the community continues to show the pilgrims. She views the worship sites as homes, so she believes that it is “quite special” for communities to welcome strangers into their spaces.

Waterman is a follower of the Bahá’í religion, which embraces all faiths.

“God has provided guidance to mankind all over the world at different times in history, which results in the different religions we see today,” she says.

She believes we must now overcome our tribalism and nationalism and work towards global harmony. For Waterman, the interfaith pilgrimage is a concrete step towards global peace.

“When the world continues to live in silos and be separate, we can’t solve the world’s problems together,” she says.

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