Miners are seen at an artisanal gold mine near Kamituga, Congo. D&P has been fighting against mining injustice.x CNS photo/Djaffar Al Katanty, Reuters

Development and Peace rallies young Catholics for change

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • August 17, 2022

Pope Francis’ recent visit to Canada marked a historic moment for the Catholic Church. After delivering an apology for residential schools, the pontiff laid the groundwork for reconciliation with Indigenous communities, stressing the importance of moving forward in peace, unity and love.

Inspired by the papal visit, young Catholic Canadians want a part in shaping the world of tomorrow — one free from injustice. They’re on the prowl, seeking out directional guidance, to build a future where human rights are guaranteed for all, premised upon the inherent dignity of every person.

Development and Peace-Caritas Canada (D&P) is offering just that, exciting idealistic youth into tangible action.

This social justice organization emphasizes providing alternatives to unjust social, political and economic structures through lobbying governments to enact legislative change. Another main prerogative is spotlighting a “preferential option for the poor,” which for D&P’s youth programs officer Selina Hunt, is the way to move forward.

“We have to consider the impact of our decisions. Preferential option for the poor is the priority and the path forward. We need to put life before profit, put the poor and vulnerable before everything,” said Hunt, who first heard of D&P in Grade 9.

The path to justice and equality is manifested by D&P’s support of partners in the Global South. The assistance provided, premised on unlocking basic rights for every citizen, orients its four main themes: peace and reconciliation, democracy and citizen participation, ecological justice as well as justice for women. Despite its present-day social justice focus, the non-profit has its roots deep-seated in Catholic tradition.

Southwestern Ontario animator Emily Lukasik met reps of the organization at her church at the age of nine. In a brief exchange with the ambassadors in the parish hall, she came to be appalled with mining injustice. A young Lukasik questioned how nations could be held accountable for the brutalities of the mining industry committed overseas. The answer, as she discovered later, was grounded in D&P’s Catholic principles.

“Our precepts are based in Catholic social teaching, a large emphasis of which is put on the idea that the human dignity of each person must be respected,” said the Sheridan College musical theatre major. “D&P is inspired by Populorum Progressio, written in 1966 by Pope Paul VI, which says that ‘development is the new word for peace. Peace cannot simply be seen as the absence of war.’ Essentially, you need to have your basic human rights met and that’s what we’re here to advocate for.”

Lukasik, who had a successful acting career which took her to theatres across Canada before she became a D&P animator (she still acts from time to time), said the organization works at the school and regional levels to rally youth for change. It organizes a number of events, among which the “dress down and speak up” was her favourite.

“We encouraged all the students to wear their shirts inside out, so the tag of the shirt would show where the clothing was made. This is useful when encouraging youth to reduce spending habits,” said Lukasik, a native of Hamilton.

Michaela Nolan, a student leader of the D&P club at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School in Oakville, Ont., executes school-based initiatives. Nolan said the club’s success hinges on its participants and would be a worthwhile venture even if she managed to educate just one of her peers.

“Leaders play a role in getting initiatives off the ground and ensuring that our initiatives will mean something,” she said. “While leaders are important to the organization of the club, the most important people are all the other club members who help us pick and ultimately run each initiative.”

D&P also involved itself on the political level where it lobbies the government for change, underpinned by social justice values.

“We meet with MPs to bring about more just policies because often people suffer at the hands of the government,” said Hunt, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. “We also organize marches and rallies for young people. We take part in the September climate marches, where we connect with other groups across Canada, mobilizing young people to act for change.”

(Vecchiato, 17, recently graduated from Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.)

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