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Magazine aims to bring religion into public debate

Religion, politics and civic debate mix awkwardly in official Ottawa these days – the legacy of sustained efforts to separate church and state – but one Christian-led think tank is trying to ease conversation about faith back into intelligent discourse.

The Cardus Centre for Cultural Renewal is using its annual Hill lecture in Ottawa Tuesday night to launch a new magazine, one it says tries to show that being "a faithful citizen is not a contradiction in terms."

It's called Convivium, which in Latin means living together and implies good cheer and a hospitable spirit like that found at a banquet.

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The publishing effort is led by Rev. Raymond de Souza, a Roman Catholic priest and National Post columnist, as well as Peter Stockland, a former Montreal Gazette editor-in-chief who once covered Parliament Hill as a journalist.

While both are Catholics they say the magazine is open to all and at least three writers in the October 2011 issue are non-Catholic.

Former NDP MP Bill Blaikie, a United Church minister, pens one of the flagship articles on the need to restore the Christian Left's place in Canadian public debate.

"It is not a good thing for the relationship between faith and politics to be so rigidly caricatured as something to be found only on the political right," Mr. Blaikie writes. "There needs to be a recognition at the very least on the part of those on the Christian political right, that the progressive politics with which they disagree in the public realm is nonetheless a genuinely Christian politics."

Even when the other side of the debate is a secular liberal-democratic political culture, Mr. Blaikie writes, "it owes its values in no small part to Canada's Judeo-Christian heritage in the first place and to the work of former generations of Christian activists."

Convivium's first issue features a big takeout on China's persecution of religious adherents co-written by former Liberal MP David Kilgour. It reviews Beijing's campaign against churches that are state-controlled as well as Falun Gong, citing another journalist's summation of the crackdown on evangelical groups: "The tensest standoff over religious freedom since the brutal crackdown on Falun Gong adherents after they made similar calls for official acceptance."

A Catholic archbishop makes an appearance too, in the magazine as Ottawa's Terrence Prendergast writes of major changes to the wording used to celebrate mass that have sparked controversy within the church.

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Also in the issue, Charles Lewis, the National Post's religion reporter, writes on the trials and joys of covering a beat unlike any other.

"Many people find the stock market bewildering or economics impenetrable but they do not deny the existence of the Dow nor the hit they take on their retirement savings during an economic crisis," Mr. Lewis writes. "Religion, on the other hand, is the only topic in which the people covered believe in something that is not only invisible but is also considered delusional and even evil by a large chunk of the population."

Later in the magazine, Father de Souza, who writes from a small-c conservative perspective, dissects the politicization of Jack Layton's death.

He said the magazine takes no partisan position and aims to discuss life beyond politics. "It's a good place to challenge the idea that all of our common life is defined by politics."

Topics he covers in Convivium's October issue include: police conduct at the 2010 G20 summit; The Kennedys TV miniseries; Saskatchewan Roughriders fans' watermelon helmets; and Globe and Mail writer Ian Brown's disabled son.

Father de Souza is launching the Convivium project with a lecture at the Rideau Club at 7:30 pm ET Tuesday.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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