The 1,000 or so people who attended the two main events of 47th National Prayer Breakfast, just steps from Parliament Hill, received contrasting and complementary exposures to the theme of “faith and freedom” from this year’s two keynote speakers.
At the pre-breakfast dinner, on Monday, April 30, Nazanin (pronounced Naz-a-neen) Afshin-Jam MacKay, described the work to which she has been drawn in advocating for women mistreated and abused in the place of her birth, Iran.
And, the next morning, at the breakfast itself, National Post columnist and Queen’s University economics/education professor, Father Raymond de Souza, grappled with the question: Why politics – and politicians – need religion.
The biblical passage used to reinforce the theme was “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).
This report will summarize some aspects of both addresses. For full accountings, we provide three links:
- Some of Afshin-Jam MacKay’s comments were based on a similar talk she gave three years ago at the British Columbia Leadership Prayer Breakfast. An adaptation of that talk appears at https://canadianchristianity.com/bc/bccn/0709/03queen.html.
- In the May 3 issue of the National Post, de Souza provides a moving account of Afshin-Jam MacKay’s suggestion, during her Ottawa talk, that marriage, to her, represents a new freedom to live out her Christian faith. That link is at http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/05/03/father-raymond-j-de-souza-afshin-jam-mackay-and-the-freedom-to-commit/.
- The full text of de Souza’s talk appears at http://www.cardus.ca/convivium/.
Afshin-Jam’s talk was her first in Ottawa since her marriage, on January 4, to Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
After recounting some of her experiences related to advocating against the executions of young women in Iran who are rape victims, she turned to speak of marriage, as she was learning to understand it.
God gives gifts, she said, and one of the gifts she had been given was “meeting my husband.”
“I have never been so happy or so free,” she said, noting that some have described marriage to her as “modern day bondage.” And she reaffirmed earlier reported comments that “through the grace of God”, she looks forward to having a family with Peter MacKay.
MacKay was present for her talk, as well as for de Souza’s, the next morning.
de Souza’s talk
For his part, de Souza quoted from the Constitution Act 1982, where it begins by stating that “Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”
He spoke of the ancient tension in British history between Henry VIII and Thomas More, rebutting his arguments for faith in the public square from such as Aristotle, St. Augustine, John Calvin and Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II.
Father de Souza segued his comments on Thomas More into a reference to sessions that he periodically leads in Parliament Hill settings, sponsored at times by Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer. The obvious depths of the spiritual issues discussed sometime leads the priest/columnist to warn that seemingly simple topics should be seen in context.
The speaker wrapped up his homily with the prayer of King Solomon: “May He bestow upon you an understanding mind to govern His people, to discern between good and evil and may you walk before the Lord in faithfulness, in righteousness and uprightness of heart, in great and steadfast love.”
In thanking de Souza, Speaker Scheer made humorous reference to his young family, who seemingly had been influenced by More. Recently, he said, his five year old, Grace, was crying. Nearby, his oldest, Thomas (named in part for More), was standing. Scheer asked Thomas if he had hit his sister. The reply: “You have to understand the context.”
Other highlights of the Prayer Breakfast events included music by two groups.
More from the dinner
At the dinner, The Senate Page Ensemble provided several numbers, including the Easter version of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia. Ensemble members were Cissie Liu, Marjun parcasio, Artour Sogomonian, Mahalia Golnosh Tahrirha and Jonathan Yantzi.
Liberal Senator David Smith pronounced the grace for the food at the evening event, ending his prayer with “Hallelujah”, a rejoinder undoubtedly inspired by being a part of a family replete with Pentecostal ministers.
John Weston introduced the speaker, noting quizzically that, among her accomplishments was her status as a pilot. But he added that was not one of the reasons MacKay chose her as a wife, even though he “likes jets”.
More seriously, Weston noted that the defence minister recognized in her a “woman of heart.”
Kelly Block, Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, offered the closing prayer and Lois Brown, Conservative MP for Newmarket-Aurora, introduced the Ensemble.
More from the breakfast
At the breakfast, the special music was provided by Tenore, three young tenors, Shane Wiebe, Jason Catron and Mark David Sharp. Their rendition of It is Well with my Soul drew a standing ovation.
The traditional readings, carrying the theme of various expressions of love, were provided by Supreme Court Justice Marshall Rothstein, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, NDP MP David Christopherson and Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae. The four biblical passages, as noted by National Prayer Breakfast chair Colin Mayes (Conservative MP for Okanagan-Shuswap), were from Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 118, Luke 6 and I Corinthians 13.
Rae prefaced the reading of the Corinthian passage by noting that it had been intoned at his marriage to Arlene – an event he described as a “Jewish-Anglican – or Chosen-Frozen – union.”
Green Party leader Elizabeth May – who has occasionally hinted that, post-politics, she aspires to be an Anglican minister – read the breakfast’s statement of purpose. Core to that purpose is the modeling of the person and life of Jesus in political life and public affairs.
Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella pronounced the invocation and Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, Vice-chief of the Defence Staff offered the closing prayer.
Following the breakfast, a Forum to explore the interfacing of faith and policy issues drew about 120 attenders.
First on the agenda was a joint presentation of the co-chairs of the multi-party Parliamentary Committee and Palliative and Compassionate Care, Joe Comartin (NDP Windsor-Tecumseh), Harold Albrecht (CPC Kitchener-Conestoga) and Frank Valeriote (Lib Guelph).
Following that presentation, Joy Smith, (Conservative Kildonan-St. Paul) who has spearheaded both Human Trafficking legislation and a major report (Connecting the Dots) on the issue, spoke about her work and answered questions.
David Anderson (CPC Cypress Hills-Grasslands), chaired the Forum.