Kevin Theivendran and Angela Li with Fr. Luis Melo and Bishop John Boissonneau at the awards ceremony at St. Luke’s Church in Thornhill.

Friars' Essay Contest 2024 winners

  • April 5, 2024

Three Toronto area students have been named winners of the 2024 Friars Student Essay Writing Contest. 

The annual contest is a partnership between The Catholic Register, The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement-Graymoor and the Office for Promoting Christian Unity of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

This year, students were tasked with tackling the theme of 2024’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from the Gospel of Luke 10:27, “You shall love the Lord your God ... and your neighbour as yourself.” This chapter features the parable of the Good Samaritan. 

Angela Li, a Grade 11 IB student from St. Robert Catholic High School in Thornhill was awarded first prize for her concise writing style and concluding prayer that expressed her hope for love in action to be carried out within the Church. 

“Her writing is mature and her observations on how to incorporate the lessons of the Good Samaritan parable in her life are very insightful,” said Fr. Luis Melo, director of the Office for Promoting Christian Unity for the Archdiocese of Toronto. 

Li spoke about her process.

“When I read the verse about the Good Samaritan, I thought about things that were really interesting in the parable, especially elements about prejudice,” she said. “I felt like it would be good for me to expand on that with my own ... experiences.”

Kevin Theivendran of Toronto’s Senator O’Connor College School took second place for his submission and third prize was secured by freshman Abigail Mesfin of St. Mary Catholic Academy. 

Prizes included a Samsung Galaxy S23 128GB Smartphone for first place, a pair of Apple AirPod Pros for second place and a Sonos One Smart Speaker for third. 

Angela Li

Among one of the most timeless of Gospel quotes, Luke 10:27 captures God’s simple yet profound message: love must transcend prejudice. For it is not the Priest or the Levite who offers aid to the injured Jew, but rather his despised enemy, a Samaritan.

For me, truly embracing God’s command to love our neighbours requires us to have the compassion to look past the norms and divides inherent within our society. It begins with the recognition that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and thus Jesus’ first command to love God cannot be complete with His second command to love our neighbours.

In today’s times, in which the world is fraught with tensions and divisions created by anything from socio-economic status to political affiliation, ethnicity to religion, this message resonates powerfully. In my life, I am encouraged to respect and build connections with all of my neighbours — to not only show kindness to the ones in my social group, but also to confront the biases that I carry with me and to reach out to those coming from different viewpoints and backgrounds. While it may be difficult, I’m learning to wholly accept myself and those around me for all that we are — for our strengths and beauties, yet our imperfections and flaws. In turning my life over to God, I hope to rid myself of the judgment that weighs down my heart. I wish to become someone who is selflessly attentive to the needs of every neighbour, because I view every person as a neighbour deserving of unconditional love and care.

To give witness to the good news in our city, churches must rise above theological differences in order to engage in interfaith dialogue. The Church, as a whole, must pursue efforts to heal historical wounds within Herself as well as those between other religions. If we are to move forward, we must realize that it is not only possible but imperative to respect and acknowledge differing beliefs whilst staying true to our own. It is only then that our churches can collaboratively tackle the pressing challenges and issues that lie ahead — whether be it homelessness, poverty or support for the marginalized — in order to ensure a life of dignity and equality to all of God’s creations.

Heavenly Father,
Teach our hearts the language of love,
So we may break down the walls of prejudice,
Letting compassion flow unbridled.
Guide us, O’ Lord,
To be instruments of Your mercy and compassion,
To act in love,
No matter who languishes on the side of the road.
May our hands be quick to aid,
May our hearts be generous,
And may our love be more than words, serving as a testimony to Your grace,
Reaching those who need Your healing touch.
In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Kevin Theivendran

Last year, on a mid-summer afternoon, I went with my dad to downtown Toronto to visit an uncle who was recovering at St. Michael’s Hospital from heart surgery. We drove along Queen Street and turned right on Bond Street, where my dad managed to find a parking spot. While he was paying the parking fare at the machine, I got out of the car and stood on the sidewalk facing the front garden of the Metropolitan United Church, overlooking St. Michael’s Cathedral.

My attention was caught by a bearded, unshaven, shabbily dressed elderly man in torn clothes with dishevelled, long hair standing near a metal bench in the church garden. He woke up a woman, probably in her mid-60s, lying on the same bench. He had some food wrapped in a torn paper bag in his hand and wanted to share it with that woman, who not only looked drowsy and hungry but readily accepted the man’s kindness.

I saw the entire garden area clustered with homeless people, some standing, others sitting on the grass; two or three people near the street were panhandling; a few of them were smoking; others had paper cups of coffee and food in their hands.

It puzzled and saddened me that these people live under the shadows of two notable church buildings where the bread of eternal life is shared daily.  This experience reminded me that with the support of my family, I should provide food and clothing to all my neighbours in need.

The ever-enticing parable of the Good Samaritan is a glaringly practical answer that Jesus gave to an erudite religious lawyer who asked, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus commended the lawyer for his thorough knowledge of the religious law, namely, “You shall love the Lord your God (...) and your neighbour as yourself”(Luke 10:27). In essence, saving knowledge is insufficient unless it accompanies saving action. Therefore, Jesus’ answer was a demanding and daring invitation to action.

This audacious parable is saturated with altruistic love, which is the defining foundation of Christian faith. Selfless love should transcend inter-denominational doctrinal divisions and should lead to united acts of compassion, allowing the virtue of mercy to flow effortlessly.

Pope Francis said that making the poor a priority is not political, it is the Gospel. Ecumenical unity in Toronto can undoubtedly solve pressing issues, specifically homelessness, by contributing towards food banks and establishing more homeless shelters.

God of unity and peace, Your Son Jesus prayed that “they all may be one” (John 17:21), and therefore inspire all churches to be united in our love for one another and help us to save this one Earth that we all share from the dangers of war, division and destruction. Lead us in joining hands to alleviate poverty, racial, religious and national differences so that we may all work for the unity and equality of humanity through our participation. We ask this as sisters and brothers of Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Abigail Mesfin

In Luke 10:27, Jesus implores us to love the Lord and our neighbours as ourselves, encapsulating a profound message within the parable of the Good Samaritan. This narrative  challenges me to embody love, compassion, humility and mercy, fostering the virtues of reconciliation and healing.

Reflecting on my own journey, a pivotal moment occurred this summer, as I took on a job with Toronto Housing. Immersed in diverse communities, I encountered individuals facing challenges beyond my initial understanding. The experience was eye-opening, unveiling the stark realities of inequality and the pressing need for compassion.

I found myself drawn to the stories of resilience and strength within my community. It became evident that, just as the Good Samaritan uplifted a wounded stranger, there were countless opportunities for me to extend a helping hand. These encounters reinforced the notion that love, compassion and mercy are not abstract concepts, but tangible forces that bring about positive change in the lives of others.

The parable challenges us to be disciples of compassion in our everyday lives, fostering empathy for the marginalized. Churches, as beacons of love, can collaborate to amplify this message. By organizing joint initiatives, such as outreach programs and community events, they can bridge divides and embody the teachings of Luke 10:27 collectively. Unity among churches showcases a powerful witness to the transformative impact of love in action.

Efforts should extend beyond church walls and engage with local organizations, leveraging resources to address systemic issues. By partnering with foundations that abide by the teachings of the Lord, churches can contribute to creating an environment where the downtrodden experience the healing touch of God through human compassion.

Let us extend our prayer, Heavenly Father, for a deeper manifestation of love in action, particularly for those most wounded and in need of Your healing touch. Grant us the strength to live out the teachings of Luke 10:27 and the wisdom to contribute to the well-being of our fellow people.

May our collective efforts be a testament to the boundless power of love. Lord, instill in us a commitment to fostering a culture of empathy and understanding in our city, transcending societal boundaries. As we strive to reach the marginalized, be our guiding light, illuminating the path toward reconciliation, understanding, and transformative healing.

We express gratitude for the resilience of those we’ve encountered. May their stories inspire us to be agents of positive change, advocating for justice and equality. Let this prayer resonate within our hearts as a constant reminder of our duty as disciples of Jesus, spurred into action by the love and compassion that define Your divine nature.

May the echoes of this prayer reverberate throughout our communities, sparking a ripple effect of love. Guide us, Lord, as we embark on this journey, unified in purpose and driven by an unwavering commitment to bringing healing and reconciliation to the wounded souls. Amen.

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