Christianity and Secularism

A Conversation for the Year of Faith among Christians, Atheists, Non-Believers and Free Thinkers in the Diocese of Hamilton
10:00am-1:00pm, Saturday, September 21st
Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King
714 King Street West, Hamilton, Ontario
When Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor spoke at a conference on religion and the public sphere he described secularity in terms of the three goals of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity. Although he acknowledged that pursuing the goals of liberty and equality requires compromise, he argued that negotiating public policy requires fraternity among citizens. As Canadians pursued the goals of liberty and equality, Canada became more pluralistic and secular. It is hoped that this event will promote the goal of fraternity among Canadians with different notions of secularity, namely those of us who hold religious beliefs, such as Christians, and those of us who don’t hold them, such as atheists and free thinkers.

Thus, we intend that this event will foster mutual understanding and friendship among believers and non-believers through conversation, music and a social gathering at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Hamilton.

10:00am Panel Discussion in the Nicholas Mancini Centre (behind the Church)

David Cayley, Writer/Broadcaster

David Cayley, Writer/Broadcaster

David Cayley was born in Toronto in 1946, attended Harvard College, graduating in 1966, spent two years in CUSO, and in 1971 discovered that he could finance a continuing education by making programmes for CBC Radio. He worked for CBC Radio in various capacities for 41 years until his retirement at the end of last year. He made hundreds of radio programmes, most of them for Ideas, and also wrote or edited seven books of which the two most recent were Ideas on the Nature of Science and The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich. His last two radio series for Ideas were After Atheism and The Myth of the Secular. He is married with four grown-up children and lives in Toronto.


Peter-Anthony Togni, Composer/Musician

Peter-Anthony Togni, Composer/Musician

Peter-Anthony Togni’s music is spiritually rooted and contemplative. It ranges from the ethereally quiet to the explosive outer limits of contemplation. He has been heard everywhere from Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall, the Moscow Conservatory, the Oriental Arts Centre in Shanghai, to the Vatican. His works have been released on XXI  Records, CBC Records, Hänssler Classics, Warner Classics UK. In 2010 his Lamentatio Jeremiah Prophetae was recorded by bass clarinettist Jeff Reilly and the Elmer Iseler Singers for ECM records. In October of 2012 the Togni Trio’s latest recording Spatium was released.  Togni is also organist for the internationally acclaimed trio Sanctuary and his jazz group the Togni Trio plays regularly through Canada and the US. In 2012, he was the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in honour of contributions made to Canadian community life. His latest solo CD is Piano Alone. He resides in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Fr. Scott Lewis, SJ, Regis College, Toronto School of Theology

Fr. Scott Lewis, SJ, Regis College, Toronto School of Theology

Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J. is a professor of the New Testament at Regis College as well as the Director of Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre in Pickering. He is a columnist at the Catholic Register, each week presenting new insights on the Gospel of the Sunday under the title of God’s Word on Sunday. He has published a number of books and is in constant demand as a retreat giver. When recently interviewed about the his participation in an upcoming graduate seminar on atheism he said, “I would rather have discussions — not with these very militant atheists, but with very thoughtful ones and with very thoughtful theologians and people of faith who are not threatened. I think both sides could learn from each other.”


Sr. Bernadette Caron, SOLI, Catholic Catechist

Sr. Bernadette Caron, SOLI, Catholic Catechist

Sister Bernadette Caron is a member of the Sisters of Our Lady Immaculate, a Catholic community of religious women in Cambridge, Ontario, and holds a Master’s Degree in Theology from Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College, Alexandria, Virginia. Although born Catholic, she spent some time exploring various spiritualities and then a period as an agnostic/atheist. Now, as a Catholic consecrated person, she enjoys continuing the dialogue about belief in God on the intellectual level and from her personal experience.




11:00am  Open up the conversation to the audience
12:00pm  Music Concert and Open House in the Cathedral Church
(Peter-Anthony Togni , Sharon Fazari, Diocesan Choir)
12:15pm  Social in the Cathedral Auditorium (concurrent with Open House)
12:30pm  Presentation to Panellists (in Auditorium)

The format the event is based upon the Courtyard of the Gentiles held in Paris in 2011. We will begin with a discussion among a group of panellists on the topic of Christianity and Secularism in Nicholas Mancini Centre behind the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King, the conversation will be opened up to the audience, and finally all in attendance (believers and non-believers/Christians and atheists) will be invited to visit the Cathedral Church to look around, pray, and meditate while our Diocesan choir provides music for believers and non-believers as they explore this sacred space together. When the event was held at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a choir came from Taize. We have Canadian composer/musician Peter-Anthony Togni coming to play the organ and accompany the choir. An informal social gathering with light refreshments in the Cathedral Auditorium will be held concurrent with visiting the sacred space.  For more information about the Courtyard of the Gentiles initiative, please view this video:

The event is being organized by the Communio Circle of the Diocese of Hamilton and facilitated by volunteers from the McMaster Catholic Students Association. The music is being provided by the Diocesan choir under the direction of Sharon Fazari. The social in the Cathedral Auditorium is being provided by Fr. David Wynen, Cathedral Rector. Bishop Douglas Crosby will be hosting and attending the event as part of our Diocesan Year of Faith celebrations. Thank you to David Dayler of the Diocese of Hamilton Office for Discipleship and Parish Life for representing Communio at the Chancery Office. Thank you to Christine Finochio and the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board for the use of the Nicholas Mancini Centre.

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6 Responses to Christianity and Secularism

  1. Alan d'Eon says:

    Ok, So I have the opportunity to leave a comment so here goes……

    I’ll tell you I was very frustrated with this event as it wasn’t at all what it was presented to be.

    I was so frustrated that I made a blog post. If anyone wishes to hear my thoughts on this and actually contribute to a real conversation on this topic please read my blog post on the subject and let me know what you think.

    Alan d’Eon
    Hamilton Ontario

  2. Christopher Degagne says:

    Hello Alan,

    I wanted to thank you for attending the event. Believe it or not, the organizers of the event were just as disappointed with tiny Atheist/Agnostic presence as you were. I know I personally invited the McMaster Secular Humanist society to come and I was saddened to see that no one decided to take advantage of the offer. Other efforts were made reach out to the Atheist/Agnostic community. I know that the organizers made no small effort to get an Atheist or Agnostic on the panel, but no one wanted to step up to the responsibility. As much as I wish there was more talking to Atheists and less talking about Atheists, it’s difficult accomplish that goal when all everyone seems so shy.

  3. Mark Morley says:

    Dear Alan, I want to assure you that we fully intended that the event would be a conversation among believers, atheists, non-believers and free thinkers. I admit, however, that we failed. But it wasn’t for lack of effort. I spent over a year inviting atheists to join the panel. I sent e-mails. I made phone calls. I met in person. Some were dismissive from the start, saying things like, I don’t want to be your village atheist. Others graciously allowed me to try to explain the format of the event, which was admittedly difficult to get across. After all, as far as I know, hosting an off-site dialogue with atheists along with an open house, music concert and lunch at a cathedral church had never before been organized in Canada. One person came very close to accepting my invitation but in the end decided against it because, as he said, religion is a private matter. When I asked him if he would speak in public about his belief that religion should be private, he declined. While planning the event I discovered that I was running into the very problem that I was hoping it would address. I don’t think the problem is shyness. If I found myself the only Christian in a room full of atheists, I probably also would have kept my thoughts to myself. Sadly, it was precisely these socially conditioned restrictions on interactions between believers and non-believers that we hoped would be overcome. Christopher was one member of a team of students at Mac inviting non-believers. It would appear that they were taken to be insincere. Nevertheless, I’m hopeful. During the panel discussion it was proposed that a kind of clearing in relations among believers and non-believers in the public sphere is beginning to open up in Canada. My hope is that our event was a step in the right direction in an ongoing process of improving relations. Given that our one-sided attempt failed, perhaps it’s time for my group of Christians and your group of atheists to collaborate and plan an event together that would be of interest to the wider public? What do you think?

  4. Alan d'Eon says:

    HI Stephen, I’ve replied to this on my blog so that I don’t turn this page into a long winded ventfest.

    I’ve included your reply as a reference. If you’d like me to remove your reply, I’ll be happy to do so, so just say the word and I’ll delete that portion.

    Feel free to continue the conversation there. I don’t really care much about my blog in terms of page hits but filling the dioceses’ page with this conversation doesn’t seem appropriate. Maybe others will join in there and it just might start that conversation we were seeking since I’m able to share it with actual atheists.

  5. Alan d'Eon says:

    Father Mark, thank you for the response.

    I was actually contacted by a student from Mac to see if anyone in my group would be able to attend as she wasn’t able to make it but did mention that your group truly seemed sincere in your desire to have this event without “motive”. Other groups in the past clearly did have an ulterior motive for their events.

    I was kind of thinking the same thing in the back of my head regarding a collaboration of a sort but would have to see what that entails and how I could help, if at all. Having a thought in the back of one’s head and suddenly bringing it to the forefront can be a bit daunting. I can certainly ask my group as some people come to mind that might very well jump at the idea. It’s a shame we hadn’t connected before, I might have been able to help you in some way fulfill the objective of this particular event.

    There is a saying in the Atheist community. “Organizing Atheists is compared to herding cats” It can be a hard task as we all seem to want to go in our own directions.

    I not sure what would come of it but I can put out some feelers.

  6. Sr. Bernadette says:

    I responded on your blog, Alan! I think this is all very positive and look forward to seeing the conversation continue!

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