Christian-Jewish student group embraces Muslim peers

By  Scott Mair, Youth Speak News
  • May 21, 2010
Centre for Jewish Catholic Muslim LearningLONDON, ONT. - A youth organization that has dedicated itself to promoting positive dialogue between Catholics and Jews is now doing the same with the Muslim community.

The Centre for Catholic Jewish Learning, an organization established to improve Catholic-Jewish relations at King’s University College in London, changed its name to the Centre for Jewish Catholic Muslim Learning (CJCML) this year.

While the organization has been operating since 2004, the centre extended its efforts to promote positive interfaith dialogue to Islam this spring.

Fr. Michael Bechard, chairman of CJCML, said the organization has always wanted to include Muslims but felt that greater dialogue with the Muslim community was needed before this could take place.

“What we had to do from the beginning was build relationships with the Muslim community, both on campus and within the city,” said Bechard. “We felt that the time was right to include them in our organization and discuss our common heritage as children of Abraham.”

The organization does this via events like the Abrahamic Road Trip, an excursion where students are introduced to the sacred places of each religion and can ask questions about Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The events are planned by the organization’s student representatives from each religious community.

“The official addition of the Muslim community is a great step forward,” said Bianca Canave, the organization’s Catholic representative. “Our organization’s message brings people together by celebrating our similarities and acknowledging our differences.”

The decision was not without controversy, however. Some felt that including Islam would undermine the organization’s original purpose of facilitating dialogue between Christians and Jews.

“Due to the deeply rooted foundations of the Centre… there was a bit of hesitancy in regards to the inclusion of Islam,” said Itsham Yousaf, the organization’s Muslim representative. “Fortunately, Fr. Bechard and others committed to inter-religious dialogue (did not want) the third member of the Abrahamic family excluded.”

Marty Rotenberg, the organization’s Jewish representative, feels that the inclusion of Islam will improve the relationship between Jews and Muslims.

“Muslim-Jewish relations are currently at a low point in history,” said Rotenberg. “By engaging each other in honest dialogue… we can learn from the successes of Catholic Jewish dialogue and apply this to all of our communities.”

Yousaf agrees, saying that inter-religious dialogue is in keeping with Islam.

“Muslims are generally in favour of interfaith dialogue and are very supportive of getting to know Jews and Christians,” said Yousaf. “Through education we will enhance our understanding of one another.”

Some of the educational efforts in service of this goal include the preparation of “common charity meals,” where Jewish and Muslim students prepare food for the less fortunate. Bechard says this “builds bridges” between the two faiths.

“Students of Jewish and Muslim origin who would be fighting back (in their home countries) are now working together and preparing meals for the poor in the city,” said Bechard. “It’s a very basic charitable work, but it creates an environment where walls of suspicion are broken down.”

Canave said that the CCJML has been so successful with its efforts it has extended beyond King’s College.

“Many of the participants in our programs are members of the (local) community,” said Canave. “A lot of our activities have spread beyond… King’s University College and over to the (University of Western Ontario), its affiliates and other colleges.”

Rotenberg says the organization is so successful it has begun to take on more ambitious projects, including a memoir about a Canadian Catholic’s struggle to protect Dutch Jews during the Holocaust.

Whatever projects are tackled, however, Bechard says the CCJML will strive for unity and dialogue between the three faiths.

“We are all God’s children and share in the initial covenant God made with Abraham,” said Bechard. “It’s part of our mission as a Catholic community at King’s College to celebrate the rich diversity of faiths that different people bring here. (We) desire to (show) how faith creates a forum for peace and justice.”

(Mair, 18, is journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

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