Young people and religious leaders from the Catholic, Muslim and Jewish faiths gather together for the first time at a local interfaith event. Photo by Jacklyn Gilmor

Interfaith student dialogue welcomes Jewish participants

By  Jacklyn Gilmor, Youth Speak News
  • November 3, 2017
Toronto’s Muslim-Catholic Student/Young Adult Dialogue group has extended its reach to the Jewish faith. 

Representatives from all three faith groups met for the first time in the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto Oct. 24.

The Dialogue, hosted by the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs of the Archdiocese of Toronto, has brought Muslim and Catholic young adults together for 10 years.

“We have been trying to include Jewish people for awhile, but this is the first event where they have been (officially part of it),” said host Vivian Kwok, coordinator of the Muslim-Catholic Student/Young Adult Dialogue. 

Participants included groups from the University of St. Michael’s College as well as the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and City Shul, a synagogue in Toronto.

The Dialogue, which meets about six times a year, is a platform for students and young adults to share their experience and ideas about connecting as people of different faiths.

The Dialogue officially began in 2010 and has covered such topics as the personalities of Jesus and Muhammad, the season of Advent and the death and resurrection of Christ. 

Kwok said the event brings together people from different religious organizations so they can go back and share the dialogue with their communities, many of which are made up of students and young adults.

“It means something very profound to me (that Jewish people are being included),” said Nick Gunz, a member of City Shul. He said this should be a generation of healing, which means taking risks and reaching out to people of other faiths. 

“The Catholic Church is really hopeful in reaching out and helping to organize this. We often see the Church as a pillar of strength in the world, and it’s very meaningful to be approached as partners with such an important institution,” he said.

Participants shared best practices for reaching out to young people and how to strengthen interfaith dialogue. They also discussed how youth are exposed to many stereotypes on the Internet so it is important to teach teens and young adults to respect one another, especially when it comes to faith.

“Hearing about what a Jewish person believes and hearing a Muslim person share really interested me, rather than getting it off the Internet or TV,” said Racine Senining, the young adult lead at St. Thomas More Parish in Scarborough. “What I learned today is that I don’t know anything. There’s so much more to learn about Judaism and Islam.” 

For many participants, it was their first time at an interfaith event. Abdullah Erkam Ak, a York University student and volunteer at the Canadian Turkish Islamic Foundation, said he thinks people of different faiths coming together this way may give rise to a younger generation that is more understanding. 

“The interpretations and lifestyles have changed, but the core idea is the same: you value the people. Ideas are coming from the same source,” he said.

“Muslims should be very interested in Vatican II and that it means that we worship the same God (as Catholics),” said Rizwan Mohammad, the civics works coordinator at the Canadian Council of Muslim Women youth. He said that the Church’s Year of Mercy was important, because mercy is important in the Koran. Social justice and humanitarian projects are a great way to have productive results from the Dialogue, Mohammad said.

The dialogue often involves participants doing acts of service, such as preparing lunches for the homeless. Kwok also said that cleaning cemeteries to beautify a sacred place was a great opportunity to serve.

(Gilmor, 19, is a second-year journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto.)

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