Peace is in the hands of youth

  • October 2, 2009

{mosimage}TORONTO - “Peace is hard,” Justin Trudeau told more than 4,000 Catholic students gathered in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Peace Garden Sept. 29.
Nobody disagreed with him.

“We need your ideas, we need your vision, we need your dreams,” the Liberal Member of Parliament and ex-teacher declared.

Twenty-five years after his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, turned the sod on Toronto’s Peace Garden, his son was entrusting the ideals of peace and social justice to teenagers struggling with homework and hormones.

“Each and every one of us has the capacity to change the world,” he told the kids. “We don’t need you to be leaders tomorrow. We need you to be leaders today.”

Before Trudeau told them they had a responsibility to change the world, Toronto Mayor David Miller told the Grades 9-to-12 students Toronto is their city.

“You represent the city I love,” he said. “All of us with our different backgrounds and cultures live together in relative peace and social justice... Without social justice there can be no peace.”

Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins urged the students to realize peace as both a spiritual and a concrete reality.

“Not just peace on our lips but peace in the heart,” he said. “Not peace as a word, but peace as a reality.”

Grade 8 Stella Maris Catholic School student Veronica Fantaccione didn’t need convincing. She took the stage to tell her peers, “Peace is an active, hopeful way of living. If we want to have peace, we have to learn about peace and practise it.”

The history lesson went back much further than 25 years, when the Peace Garden was blessed by Pope John Paul II and inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II. Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow told the students how she survived the first nuclear attack on a civilian population when she was a 13-year-old middle school student.

“We sat on the hillside stunned and numb with the massive death witness and watched the city burn,” she told the students. “Dead bodies — burned, blackened and swollen — covered the ground.”

The retired social worker told students their responsibility is to create a “cultural transformation away from our obsession with violence and war.”

Fr. Massey Lombardi, who transported embers from the eternal flame in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and water from Nagasaki’s Peace Park to light the flame of the eternal flame to start the fountain in Toronto’s Peace Garden in 1984, assured the students they are the right people to create peace in our world.

“You are empowered by God and by Jesus Christ,” he said. “It’s a power not to destroy but to build up.”

School board officials used the occasion to announce a new program with a new award in support of peace. Starting this year, schools throughout the Toronto Catholic District School Board will be asked to nominate “Ambassadors of Peace” who will meet to discuss concrete measures for peace. Outstanding Ambassadors of Peace will be eligible for the St. Peter Claver award.

City council has passed a plan to remodel and renovate Nathan Philips Square, including a major reconfiguration of the Peace Garden, which would be relocated just west of City Hall. There is no word from city officials on when the work on a new Peace Garden will begin. Other aspects of the Nathan Philips Square renovation are already underway.

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