High school students from five Catholic school boards from the archdiocese of Toronto gather outside Martyrs’ Shine during Tent City, an event that helped to raise money and awareness of poverty and homelessness. The group was joined by Cardinal Thomas Collins, top left. Photo by David Clubine/ShareLife

Standing in solidarity with the homeless at Tent City

By 
  • May 9, 2012

To help raise money and awareness for poverty and homelessness, about 265 Catholic high school students pitched tents outside Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., May 3 to show their solidarity with the less fortunate.

Hosted by ShareLife in co-operation with the archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth, the inaugural Tent City event in Midland didn’t go as planned. A thunderstorm that blew through broke tents and sent students from the Toronto, Durham, Dufferin-Peel, Simcoe-Muskoka and La Conseil Scholaire de Centre-Sud Catholic school boards to an overnight sleep inside the Shrine.

“I’m kind of happy it rained,” said Celeste Mattinson, a Grade 11 student at Nouvelle-Alliance, a Catholic French high school in Barrie, Ont. “It gave us a more realistic feel of what it can be like for the people that sleep outside and don’t have a shelter when it’s raining.”

To better relate, Mattinson and students from her high school participated in a 21-hour famine.

Students raised about $40,000 for homelessness, said Timothy Keslick, volunteer co-ordinator and master of ceremonies for the event.

“In addition, ShareLife has an anonymous donor who’s willing to match any increased or new donations to ShareLife and so, as a total including the matches we’ve been given, we’ve raised about $75,000 for homelessness.”

All the money raised will go towards ShareLife social service agencies that address homelessness and poverty.

The concept for Tent City was inspired by an event that took place at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic High School in Brampton a couple years ago, said Keslick.

“A number of staff members and students slept in cardboard boxes on their high school field to raise awareness and promote a deeper sense of compassion for the impoverished members of society.”

Tent City featured speakers from Covenant House and Catholic Family Services along with faith sharing, a “poverty” meal of stew and bread and a closing Mass the following morning with Cardinal Thomas Collins as the main celebrant.

Students also watched The Soloist, a film that chronicles the story of a cello player who is poor and, because of this, isn’t given the opportunity to share his gift.

Brianne Watmore, a Grade 11 student at Nouvelle-Alliance, took part because she wanted to make a difference in her community.

“We see it all the time, but it’s different seeing it than living it,” said Watmore.

Keslick said Tent City helped students to better understand the concept of social justice as it’s all too often associated with putting money in the collection basket. But it also has to do with being aware of the spiritual needs of people, he said.

“Sometimes, somebody might not need the money to get them off their feet, but that connection and that relationship and the rekindling of their faith.”

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