Students led an interfaith prayer service for victims of the Christchurch shootings during the inaugural event of TCDSB’s Interfaith Youth Alliance Movement. Photo courtesy of Audrey Ferrer, Madonna CSS

Toronto Catholic school board launches new interfaith youth alliance

  • March 28, 2019
Sixteen-year-old Mariam Khoshaba is determined to see a future of world religions united in purpose — even if it’s one name tag at a time.

She and her Grade 11 world religions classmates at Madonna Catholic Secondary School took one step closer to that goal on March 19 as the Toronto Catholic District School Board launched its inaugural event for its new Interfaith Youth Alliance Movement.

About 300 students from across the school board, plus guests from As-sadiq Islamic School and other Catholic schools in the Greater Toronto Area, gathered for the event organized by students of Madonna Catholic Secondary School.

“It was just to bring youth from different religious backgrounds together to just talk about a greater time, especially in this time where there’s many issues like climate change, terrorism and a bunch of things. That was our main idea,” said Khoshaba.

Catholic students were joined by Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist and Indigenous students from across the GTA. Throughout the day, youth were encouraged to introduce themselves to each other and share a bit about their faith tradition — and that’s where the name tags came in.

“We had a buddy system type of activity where on our name tags, we put a word and we had to find the person with the opposite word,” said Mariam Sorisho, Grade 11 Madonna CSS student. “Everyone found their partner and we talked about our schools and our classes, our differences and similarities. It was a really cool activity.”

“The Catholic students that I interacted with at the event were very open and genuine,” said Zoha Sojoudi, a student from As-Sadiq Islamic School in Thornhill. “As I came to remind myself of the many unifying similarities that we share, while acknowledging our differences, I began to feel a special sense of connection with them.”

Muslim imam Hamid Slimi, founder and president of Faith Life Network and lecturer at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, was one of the speakers at the event hosted at the Catholic Education Centre.

He told students that when a religious group is attacked, like in Christchurch, it is important that all religions speak out against hatred. While those who want to cause harm encourage barriers, he said we must respond stronger and more united than ever.

“In this event, we’re trying to build bonds so things like that, in the future, don’t have to happen,” said Sorisho, who was part of the Grade 11 world religions class that organized the event. “And if they do, we don’t have to point fingers but we help one another.”

Audrey Ferrer, religion teacher and supervising teacher of the interfaith event, said it was amazing to watch her students take up this project and bring it to reality.

Students from the fall semester launched the idea and put together a blueprint of the event while students from the spring semester continued the work by putting the plan into action.

Students from both classes spent many hours after school putting the event together.

“To see all the excitement that’s come from it, other teachers that say they want to partner ... that they want to continue this work as well,” said Ferrer. “This event was a launch event, but they really have the hope to keep continuing.”

Ferrer said they are in talks with As-Sadiq Islamic School to partner in an Abrahamic school exchange program. They are also hoping to invite a local Jewish school and have students among the three schools spend a day in a different faith school environment. The exchange is planned for May this year.

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