March 19, 2012 – Interfaith Youth Movement Held at CMU Draws Students Working Together for Social Change – On March 4, more than 80 students and other participants gathered at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) for Winnipeg’s first Interfaith Youth Conference. Targeted at youth ages 16 to 26, the event aimed to bring young people of faith together to think about, discuss, and imagine ways to understand each other and work together for social change.
Speakers included Obby Khan, a Winnipeg Blue Bomber starter; Michael Champagne, who spoke about his experiences growing up as an Aboriginal in Winnipeg’s North End; and Seunita Mahraf Sandhu, who shared some common misconceptions about Hinduism. The conference also included panel discussions and discussion groups where students from different faith backgrounds broke into small groups to explore an issue and develop steps to address it.
Melanie Kampen, a student at CMU and one of the conference organizers, said, “I was impressed by how articulate and creative the youth were. They are already leaders. We need to find ways to engage them, elicit their wisdom and imagination, and trust them with creating and organizing their visions for solidarity and justice.”
At left: CMU Student Melanie Kampen
Like the conversations it started, the conference itself was the result of many different groups and ideas coming together for a common purpose. The free day-long event was presented by the Islamic Social Services Association (ISSA), funded by Manitoba Multiculturalism Secretariat and the Winnipeg Foundation, and hosted at CMU. The organizing committee worked to find a date and time that could accommodate Muslim Friday afternoon prayers, the Jewish Sabbath, and Sunday morning Christian worship.
CMU was a natural fit to host this unique conference because of its commitment to educating for peace and justice, learning through thinking and doing, practicing generous hospitality and radical dialogue, and modelling an invitational community.
Elizabeth Beattie, a Booth College student who volunteered as a liaison between conference organizers and ISSA (who received funding for this project), said that “learning about similarities – instead of focusing on differences – is a way to bring people together for a common goal.” She called the conference a success, and an important step in building a bright future for faith communities in Winnipeg.
The conference organizers hope to hold more events like this one, and are hoping it will lead to the creation of an Interfaith Youth Council that would meet to continue the discussions started at the March conference and work to create a better understanding among young people of faith in Winnipeg and beyond.
Text: by Lindsay Wright for CMU