Fo Guang Shan Temple hosted its inaugural Interfaith Youth Forum to connect youth voices from all faiths across the Greater Toronto Area. Photo courtesy of Fo Guang Shan Temple

Many faiths, one future

By  James Mangaliman, Youth Speak News
  • May 8, 2015

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - The main shrine of Mississauga’s grand Fo Guang Shan Temple is typically used by Buddhists for weekly services or meditation. On May 2, however, a modest crowd of Catholics, Sikhs, Jews and Muslims joined with the Buddhists to address a situation that  all grapple with — the future.

The statues of the Buddha at the front of the main shrine overlooked an arrangement of tables for the temple’s first Interfaith Youth Forum, a discussion of faith and social issues that brought together youth aged 16-30. The temple’s abbot, Ven. Jue Qian, said the idea for the youth forum came from her desire to bring youth of different faiths together to voice their thoughts on the future.

“Youth is the future of this world and we hope that youth have their own thoughts on how they want this future to be,” said Qian. “The objectives on hosting the forum is for youth from different religions and groups to come together to voice their thoughts, passion and vision on their faith and also what they have in their passion that they want to contribute to the world and humanity.”

The forum had two main panel discussions: “The Power of Faith, Value and Passion” and “Giving Back to your Community and Youth Voices on Social Issues Count.” Fourteen youth speakers told their stories and ideas about the role of faith in personal matters and social issues (disclosure, I represented Youth Speak News and The Catholic Register for the second panel).

The panelists emphasized that the root of solidarity between all peoples and all religions is through thorough understanding of the backgrounds of other people — knowledge is a way to breakdown the barriers between “us” and “them.”

“Harmony and peace can only be created through dialogue and openness between different faiths. It is not about what your faith does, but about finding the similarities between them,” said Joanna Chu, 21, on the ideas that Buddhism supports about interfaith dialogue.

“The main solution is through education,” said Yusuf Daglar, a Muslim, when asked about his thoughts on religious conflict. “If you truly understood others, religious conflict would completely contradict logic.”

Greening Sacred Spaces sponsored the event with Buddha’s Light Association. Lucy Cummings, executive director of Greening Sacred Spaces, said she was impressed by the youth who spoke on the panels.

“Oftentimes at interfaith forums, we can be too polite and miss opportunities for real engagement and I think at this forum, the young people really spoke from their heart about what moves them about their faith and issues that they were passionate about,” said Cummings. “People were really psyched thinking about what the next steps could be. I was impressed that it was real and authentic... They were really galvanized by what they can do together.”

The youth discussed potential action plans to take back to their communities. These called upon the faith values of each of the religions to address a variety of social issues including environmental degradation, world hunger, and homelessness.

Together the youth voted in support of a project entitled Stand for Trees, which encourages religious organizations to take up the call of stewardship and combat deforestation by planting trees in communities.

The forum’s ability to inspire initiatives through dialogue between youth remained one of the central motivators for Qian.
“I hope that youth will initiate this forum everywhere else, having a platform for other youths to have this same unique vision,” said Qian. “If you say something that you feel from the heart, people will go back and tell other people.”

Qian expressed hope that it would attract not just a youth audience, but an adult audience as well. Qian believes that the forum serves as the perfect venue to hear out the invaluable voices that youth and their different faith backgrounds bring to the table of social issues. “All the youths want to listen to what other youths have to say, and for adults to listen to them,” said Qian.

Many young minds listened to the voices at the forum, several from outside of Canada as well, from temples in Malaysia and San Francisco, where the event was being lived-streamed. Although the forum is the first of its kind to take place at the Buddhist temple, the organizers are confident that it is far from the last.

(Mangaliman, 18, is a first-year Humanities student at the University of Toronto.)

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