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Interfaith event encourages students to extend their embrace

By  Jacob Stocking, Youth Speak News
  • March 9, 2021

Young artists and activists of different faiths gathered recently to spread the messages of unity and interfaith dialogue. 

They took part Feb. 24 in “Extending our Embrace,” created as part of the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week. It resulted from a collaboration between several Toronto-based groups, including the Mary Ward Centre and the Interfaith Youth Alliance Movement at the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

The event saw nearly 1,000 viewers tune in to its live-stream on YouTube, many being high school students. There were quite a few moments throughout the proceedings that potentially roused these students.

Cheryl Perera, the Canadian child protection activist who first gained notoriety at 17 years old for playing a decoy role in a sting operation to take down a child perpetrator headed by Sri Lankan authorities – proved to be a dynamic speaker. The 34-year-old’s organization OneChild educates people worldwide on the child sex trade while providing critical resources for survivors and is a prime example of the universality of certain issues.  

Her advice to young people looking to extend their embrace was to “never underestimate your ability to make change.” In this spirit of proactivity, she points out that age or inexperience should not be a barrier to getting involved. 

“I was just a regular kid, who found out about an issue and felt the absolute need to take action and not be a bystander,” said Perera.

During these times of social disconnection, events like “Extending Our Embrace” allow students of different faiths to come together and learn how to reach out in their own communities. The event provided inspiration in the form of 

Tariq Syed shared with the audience that even in these times of social disconnection, it is still possible to connect with others. When the first COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, Syed used his business know-how to found the “Good Neighbour Project,” which shops for vulnerable populations during the pandemic. With over 6,600 volunteers, the Good Neighbour Project proves that collaboration is still possible in the current climate.

“We have people on our team who speak 35 different languages,” he said. 

Performers and artists from a variety of faiths were represented at the event, from Sikh art by Anjali Kaur Ghajminger of Durham College in Oshawa, Ont., to a performance by the dancers of St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont. Viewers were also treated to young Muslim author Zoha Sojoudi’s eloquent spoken word performance and Buddhist Monk Bhante Saranapala’s lesson on “kindfulness” — a call to practice self-care — which echoes the golden rule of loving yourself and others equally in Catholicism.

“Jesus’ whole life was reaching out,” said Kathy Mura of Toronto’s Mary Ward Centre. “(Jesus) died the way He lived: with His arms outstretched upon a cross.”

(Stocking, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Michael Power-St Joseph High School in Etobicoke, Ont.)

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