Building bridges instead of walls: an event to empower young people for the service of others

Last April 25 in Toronto, Canadian Jesuits International welcomed 85 high school students (from Notre Dame, Monsignor Fraser, Monsignor Percy Johnson and St. Mary’s) as well as Camp Ekon’s personnel to Bridging Borders. Part of the program Youth for Others (Y4O), the purpose of this event was to help initiate young Canadians to service of those on the margins.

Emiliano Martínez shares his story with Y4O students.(Photo: CJI)

This year, the Y4O theme was inspired by a challenge launched by Pope Francis: “I invite you not to build walls but bridges, to conquer evil with good, offence with forgiveness, to live in peace with everyone.”

Reaching beyond frontiers was very critical to the organizers, given that the current political climate seems to prey on people’s fears of others with partisan motivations. Considering today’s political and apostolic issues, openness towards others found itself at the heart of each of the day’s activities.

A day of listening and sharing

During Y4O, young people listened to and exchanged with the guest speaker, Emiliano Martínez. Emiliano is a young asylum seeker who has come to Canada with his wife and their two-year-old son. They were forced to flee Ciudad Juárez, in Mexico, because of threats of violence and intimidation by gangs that often extort money and create instability for many residents. Before leaving Mexico, Mr. Martínez sold fair trade coffee with his father from the Yomol A'Tel co-op related to the Jesuit mission in Chiapas. His story, his courage and his concern for others resonated throughout the day.

(Photo: CJI)

Afterwards, Prossy Nambatya, Programe Officer in the Justice and Peace Department of Uganda Episcopal Conference, explained how she pleads for the rights of women and children in Uganda as well as for their protection and opportunities. She spoke of the need to make the public aware of these problems and to put an end to sexist violence.

Then younger ones had an opportunity to speak. Marissa De Cristofaro, Maddie Frechette and Alessandro Patlan, three students from St. Mary’s, hosted a workshop on student initiatives for justice and how to create movements for change.

Father Roshan Kiro, SJ then took over by focusing on the Jesuit ministries in the Province of Darjeeling. There, they are building bridges thanks to their work in the health and education sectors.

Finally, Sister Petite Lao recounted her experience in establishing long-term relationships with the indigenous communities of Mindanao. She also underlined her ties to the Jesuit medical university of Zamboanga.

(Photo: CJI)

The students also had the chance to speak (via Skype) with Father Ismael Moreno Coto, SJ (Padre Melo), who explained to them why many people from Honduras leave everything behind to come north, crossing many borders. He described the difficulties and obstacles which these migrants face, as well as the hopes of those who decide to stay in their country. Such hopes are the basis of his work and that of his colleagues at Radio Progresso.

An invitation to serve others

The students really enjoyed this edition of Y4O, whose purpose is to inform students about social justice and to engage them in it, in partnership with collaborators in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The participants in Bridging Borders appreciated understanding the reasons that compel people to flee their country and seek asylum elsewhere.

(Photo: CJI)

It allowed them to learn more about the regions in which Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) is involved, to open up to various realities and to be initiated to partnerships and movements of change.

These events with youth are important to Jesuit organizations, according to Pieter Niemeyer, Canadian Jesuits International's outreach coordinator:

To be people for others, whether we are younger or older, is a critical reminder especially in today’s political climate. Jesuits and collaborators alike, we all need to be thinking about how we nurture future generations in a reflective and active faith that does justice in our world. Events like Youth for Others are one of the ways that we see ourselves already at work with the international apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus – spiritual renewal, accompanying the excluded, caring for our common home, and journeying with youth. There are powerful forces both within and outside the church that hold an “us versus them” mindset. Being people for others does not operate from that kind of thinking. It is oriented in a spirit of generosity and encounter and our hope is kindled when we see young people who are passionate about social justice and engaged in creating a more just world, and respond to a faith that does justice, and to living out the gospel.

In addition to sharing a journey with young people and introducing a new generation to altruism, this program also represents a way to highlight CJI’s work and to make it known in Canada. Inspired and guided by Ignatian spirituality, this organization collaborates with local partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America to support the poor and marginalized in these regions in their fight for justice and dignity.

CJI’s Outreach Coordinator, Pieter Niemeyer, at right, thanks the workshop leaders, on his right. (Photo: C. Hincks/CJI)

At the end of the day, a young woman who participated in the Y4O event said that “there is no excuse not to be in solidarity with others, especially after what we learned today.”

To learn more or to support CJI, click here.

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