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Could Winnipeg welcome the world?

Edmonton leaves the 2017 Parliament of World Religions up for grabs

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If Belgium is out and Edmonton says not this time, would Winnipeg have a chance to welcome the world's religions in 2017?

On paper, Winnipeg meets the criteria of hosting the Parliament of World Religions, but in reality, the city's interfaith community can't manage it on such a short timeline, says a member of the Manitoba Multifaith Council.

"It would be awesome to do something like this but I don't think we have the capacity to take it on," says Lynda Trono, who attended the 2009 Parliament in Melbourne, Australia.

The parliament is a week-long event that attracts about 10,000 people from 80 countries, religions and spiritual traditions to learn from each other and work on common issues such as climate change, hunger and poverty.

Last month, Edmonton pulled out of the bidding process for the 2017 summit after four years of planning and study, says the executive director of Edmonton's Committee for a Parliament of the World's Religions.

"Our word here is incompatible. We found the expectations were incompatible," says Rob Hankinson of why the Edmonton group unanimously decided to not to bid.

"We're not bidding on 2017. We're taking a wait-and-see attitude."

He says Edmonton's plan was to involve other Prairie communities, including Winnipeg, in hosting the event in conjunction with Canada's 150th anniversary.

An email from the Parliament of World Religions inviting bids on the 2017 summit states a city must have the capacity to hold a large event with 10,000 people, a diverse interfaith community, and commitments from local governments to sponsor such an event.

Any bidding community should also expect to raise several million dollars to underwrite the $7-million event, which could have an estimated economic impact of $15 million, says Mary Nelson, executive director of the Parliament of World Religions.

"The big long-term impact is that the name of that (host) city would forever be an icon in the years to come," says the Chicago-based Nelson.

"People who come to the parliament are networkers. So it has a multiplier effect in that city."

Chicago hosted the first Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893 and the tradition was revived in the same city a century later. In addition to Melbourne, Cape Town, and Barcelona also hosted the huge interfaith event. Nelson says Brussels was awarded the 2014 event, but they had to withdraw because of the European financial crisis.

Although the parliament won't be coming to Edmonton in three years, the process of researching and considering a bid has generated more interfaith co-operation and interest and built capacity for hosting smaller events, says Hankinson.

"There's an increased sense of our interfaith community pulling together and a sense of excitement," he says.

Last May, Edmonton hosted a four-day interfaith event, and the organizing group is planning to hold the first Canadian Interfaith Collegium in 2017.

Nelson says a host city for the parliament should be chosen by spring of 2015, and then planning will move into high gear to book speakers, organize workshops, seminars, performances and religious observances. At previous summits, high-profile religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed the assembly, as well as Nobel laureates such as Nelson Mandela.

"The parliament experience is such a life-changing experience," says Nelson.

"We're very confident it will happen (in 2017)."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 D15

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