Hamilton will soon have a place symbolizing religions of the world, where its residents can sit and contemplate inter faith unity and understanding. It was a long time dream come true for Beverly Shepard.
“It didn’t feel real until today,” said Shepard Chair of the Interfaith Art Project committee, at the launch of the fundraising campaign for the Interfaith Art Project on Sunday. The committee is hoping to raise up to $150,000 for the piece of art to be installed in the Peace Garden at the Bay and Hunter corner of Hamilton City Hall.
“As [immigrants] come to Canada, they bring their own faiths and religious traditions with them. These are not parts of their identity that they want to or can easily leave behind.” ~ Anne Pearson
In 1998, Shepard first drew plans for an interfaith garden with input from the Hamilton Interfaith Group. They came up with the concept that included elements of a circle representing unity, water that was important to many religions, symbols representing all religions, everlasting greenery and a place for people to sit in quiet contemplation.
They looked for places to place that garden and Hamilton City Hall was chosen. However, as the grounds were under construction, the idea was not feasible.
Soon after, a coalition of groups concerned with peace, including the Hamilton Interfaith Group, proposed that the newly renovated Hamilton City Hall grounds include a Peace Garden with an art work representing the diverse group of religions in the world.
Thus the Interfaith Art Project was born, turning Shepard’s dream into reality.
Anne Pearson, a professor of religions studies at McMaster University and chair of the Hamilton Interfaith Group, illustrated the importance of interfaith understanding as a part of achieving world peace.
“As [immigrants] come to Canada, they bring their own faiths and religious traditions with them. These are not parts of their identity that they want to or can easily leave behind,” said Pearson, who is also the grand daughter of former Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson.
Indeed a year ago, Hamilton’s largest mosque was firebombed in an act of anti-muslim hatred.
Lack of religious understanding also resulted in the Hindu Samaj temple in the city being destroyed in 2001 by an anti-Arab arsonist, mistaking the temple for mosque.
“This sculpture would be an example of the way that Hamilton is a peace city because we promote diversity of all kinds including religious diversity. This sculpture would symbolize how we could all live together in peace despite our religious differences,” added Pearson.
The artist for the Interfaith Art Project would be chosen via the city of Hamilton’s regular process for public art and the jury would be assembled from various religious and artists groups to ensure that the work of art represents the religious community and has artistic merit.
Since 1998, there have been changes to Shepard’s original vision but she stuck with it through the years.
“This idea has held me in there, this idea of the interfaith art project. My personal involvement is right here, inside,” said Shepard pointing to her heart.
Cheques for donations to the project can be made out to: UNAC Hamilton Branch with “Interfaith Art Project” in the memo.
The cheques can be mailed to Beverly Shepard, 1070 Tenth Concession West, RR#3, Puslinch, ON, N0B 2J0.