A taste of Africa at OCY banquet

  • May 21, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - When the theme for this year’s annual Catholic youth banquet was announced a year ago, Abigail Iseyemi, 17, said she started thinking right away about what she would wear. Although born in Canada, Iseyemi appreciates her parent’s Nigerian traditions and was eager to share that with other young Catholics.

“It’s usually in the African community that things happen (highlighting African culture),” she said. “When we heard this year’s banquet would have an African theme, we were very excited.”

The Office of Catholic Youth (OCY) has hosted an annual banquet for the past decade to recognize young Catholics who have made a significant contribution in the church. However, last year OCY changed the banquet’s flavour slightly by highlighting Indian culture.

“I think that it’s really multicultural, and it shows people they can be part of the Catholic Church no matter where they’re from,” Iseyemi added.

The May 8 banquet, which welcomed more than 400 guests, mostly young people, featured dance and song prepared by the African Catholic community at Sacré-Coeur parish. A fashion show also allowed a couple dozen youth, including Iseyemi, to show off their traditional formal wear.

The guest speaker, Bishop Macram Max Gassis from Sudan, told the story of his Catholic people, battered by rape, famine and war. Because he speaks out against injustices, Gassis was once refused re-entry into Sudan after he had gone to the United States for surgery.

“It is not easy for me as a Sudanese to speak out in foreign countries and tell people that Christians are being persecuted in my country. In Sudan there is slavery. In Sudan, rape is the order of the day. In Sudan, food is used to ‘Islamize’ and ‘Arabize’ the non-Muslim and the non-Arab,” he said. “This is a humiliation, but it needs to be said.”

He challenged the youth to “stand up and speak the truth always” as well as defend their brothers and sisters who are suffering. He emphasized that prayer needs to go hand in hand with action, to bring justice, reconciliation and peace to the world.

“The truth will set you free but at the same time it will make you suffer. But do not be afraid. You would feel eternal happiness that nobody would take from you,” Gassis said.

Fr. Michel Meunier, chaplain to the African community at Sacré-Coeur, said the bishop’s words carried a reality often forgotten in the safety of this country.

“We are celebrating but as the bishop said we need to realize that our brothers and sisters are suffering,” Meunier said. “We’re very fortunate but we have people in our archdiocese who represent a community of people who aren’t as fortunate as us.”

Marjorie Poliquin, 31, a Sacré-Coeur parishioner who helped organize the African portion of the banquet, said that in planning the event, the 10 or so youth involved at her church began to relate to each other a lot more.

“Before, they kind of looked at each other and saw themselves differently because they’re from different countries (within Africa),” she said. “But now they have an understanding of their friends and why they’re here.”

Poliquin also emphasized that their community includes several Sudanese Catholics, which made it special to have a Sudanese leader giving the talk at the banquet.

The banquet dinner, which featured African appetizers and a standard banquet menu, wrapped up with award presentations. Two high school recipients received the Hands of Service Scholarship, each valued at $1,000, awarded by Arthur Peters, executive director of ShareLife.

The students were recognized for their outstanding service in the church, their schools and in their communities.

The recipients were Dylan Robertson, from Pickering, Ont., and Daniel Francavilla of Brampton, Ont. Francavilla’s parents accepted the award on their son’s behalf because he was in Ottawa attending the March for Life.

The evening finished off with a dance and time to socialize.

John Dawson, youth program co-ordinator for OCY, said the turnout was better than expected.

He said that although last year’s numbers were a little higher (there were 475), they had expected fewer people to register this year because of the costs of the nearing Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City and World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia.

However, he said he did notice many new faces among the crowd.

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