A past Muslim-Catholic Student Dialogue group preparing sandwiches to give to the homeless. Photo courtesy of Vivian Kwok

Renewing bonds between Muslim and Catholic youth

By  Maria Montemayor, Youth Speak News
  • September 25, 2015

TORONTO - After a year on hiatus, the Muslim- Catholic Student Dialogue has relaunched with high hopes for more successful bridge-building between the Muslim and Catholic communities in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Fr. Damian MacPherson, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs, and Imam Hamid Slimi, former chairman of the Canadian Council of Imams, initiated the student group in 2010 with the expectation of bringing together Muslim and Catholic university students in fellowship.

“It was felt that this kind of interaction and dialogue would really benefit the whole working together of Catholics and Muslims,” said MacPherson. “And so the effort has been underway for some time and there certainly has been some modest results.”

In 2014, the Student Dialogue experienced a hiatus after the core group of student leaders graduated post-secondary school with no one stepping up to replace the leadership group.

“(The) ongoing difficulty with keeping the dialogue up and running is the fact that students do graduate, so you have to keep filling in the blanks,” said MacPherson. Vivian Kwok, who works alongside MacPherson, has spearheaded recruitment efforts for this year’s student group. She approached different student groups and young adult groups from the Greater Toronto Area, including the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Faith Connections and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. Together, there are about 10 leaders joining this year’s dialogue group.

Every month, the group meets to learn and discuss topics such as “Marriage, Dating and Family in the Islamic and Catholic faiths,” and “Understanding and Facing Violence as Muslims and/or Catholics.” Students also participate in activities, like church and mosque visits, attending interfaith conferences and sandwich runs to feed the homeless in the city. The group also extends beyond the Greater Toronto Area.

“We have a Facebook group where people share their thoughts. From that group we actually draw some international interest, people interested from across the world, some from Pakistan,” said Kwok. “Some of them have joined us through Skype at our meetings and (for those) who have already graduated, we always encourage them to come join us through Skype if they can. So, it’s becoming more dynamic.”

Kwok, MacPherson and Slimi are in agreement that the onus has to be on the youth to further Muslim-Catholic dialogue. Slimi views youth as the energy behind Muslim and Catholic communities. He views the ongoing — and international — Muslim-Catholic dialogue as necessary for eliminating negative prejudices.

“Given what is happening in the world and given the initiative of the Pope and given the initiative of many of us — the Council of Imams and, of course, the Archdiocese of Toronto — this (Muslim-Catholic) dialogue has to be ongoing,” said Slimi. “It has to continue because this environment where we live today, of mistrust and prejudgment and preconceived ideas, cannot be cleared unless programs and initiatives like this are increased, intensified if I may say.”

MacPherson believes the dialogue is a good way for Muslims and Catholics to integrate without compromising religious values.

“The Catholic-Muslim dialogue, I think, is an instrument, not only for our own well-being but even for others to look upon us as people who recognize the need for dialogue. And I think to some degree that is being achieved, and as long as we’re able to build levels of trust and dialogue it will continue,” said MacPherson.

In the long-term, Slimi would like to see success stories of Muslim and Catholic youth setting a good example for open dialogue between both faiths.

“If that (work) can be done and highlighted and hopefully showcased in the social media, that would certainly inspire people here and people elsewhere where it might be more needed: in countries where Christians, or Catholics, and Muslims don’t get along or there are wars or there are political agendas that trigger violence between the religions or between Catholics and Muslims,” said Slimi.

Their first event will take place on Sept. 27 at University of Toronto’s Multi-Faith Centre. The group discusses major beliefs and practices in Islam and Catholicism.

(Montemayor, 23, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto.)

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