Finding faith through action

By  Peter Grbac, Youth Speak News
  • December 20, 2007

{mosimage}A celebrated child rights advocate, dynamic speaker and New York Times best-selling author, Craig Kielburger is a testament to the power of youth engagement.

At the age of 12, Kielburger founded Free the Children, the world’s largest network of “children helping children through education.” His simple yet profound message that no one is ever too young to make a difference has garnered him prestigious awards, such as the Order of Canada and the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child.

Kielburger, now 24, is a native of Toronto. He attended Bishop Scalabrini Catholic elementary school and Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School both in Thornhill, Ont. Kielburger took the time out of his busy schedule to address the influence of faith in his life and the importance of living the Catholic faith through action.

YSN: What role do young people have in the fight against poverty?

Kielburger: I remember when Free the Children first began, people would tell us to wait – wait until you get a job, become an adult and then you can influence change. But if you really look at every social justice movement in recent history, they have been led by youth. I truly believe every generation faces challenges. One of the greatest issues facing youth today is the issue of global poverty. This is the first generation that has grown up as global citizens with access to 24-hour news and the Internet. We have globalized technology and commerce, but the only thing we have not globalized is compassion.  This generation has the resources and the ability to, really, for the first time in human history, end the worst forms of poverty.     

YSN: Is there one global issue that concerns you the most?

Kielburger: The issue of education for children. If you could say one thing that would have the greatest impact on global poverty, it would be education. If you provide universal primary education, you prevent seven million new AIDS infections in the next 10 years. Universal primary education is what (UN Secreatary General) Kofi Annan calls “peace building” by another name. Our schools in Sierra Leone, for example, have former child soldiers sitting next to children who were victims of the war — they go through this rehabilitation together. Education is at the root of many of the issues. The reality is that 113 million children between five and 11 years of age have never set foot into a classroom. 

YSN: What role does religion play in our world and in activism, in general?

Kielburger: Religion plays a huge role in our world and on so many levels. Religious leaders have led some of the greatest social justice movements. Desmond Tutu once told me that he sees the newspaper as God’s prayer list delivered to his front door. It is a call to action. A lot of youth seem to be waiting for a blinding, white light on the road to Damascus or some voice calling them. We get that call every single day. For me, it was a newspaper story of a young child from Pakistan who was slain. To be a person of faith, you have to live it and I believe we are called to live it through service. We in our society get so caught up in materialism. We often forget that the message we actually hear at a Sunday Mass should resonate beyond a pulpit. Do we buy fair-trade items? How do we vote? Which careers will youth pursue? Is it MBA equals BMW or are we looking at true development?

YSN: How do you live out your Catholic faith?

Kielburger: My Catholic faith is incredibly important but not in traditional ways, especially since I am rarely home. However, I consider myself a very proud Catholic. There are many people, like Mother Teresa, who are motivated by their faith. The irony for me is that through service, I found my faith. The reality is that when you spend time working in regions of the world, whether in war zones, refugee camps or jails, you see some extraordinary examples of human compassion that renews your faith. I don’t think it’s easy to be a Catholic person today. It’s not easy to be proud about it. It’s also not easy to live it through action. Many people search for that question — we hear the message every Sunday. How do you live that message?

(Grbac, 17, is a Grade 12 student at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto.)

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