By Wendy-Ann Clarke, The Catholic Register
[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – A student program by Development and Peace-Caritas Canada is giving young people the opportunity to put their faith into action through the completion of social justice activities in their school community.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, as schools were reconsidering involvement with “Me to We” in 2020, Development and Peace-Caritas Canada saw an opportunity to fill a void by addressing international issues through the lens of faith. Since launching the schools program in 2020, close to 200 schools across Canada have come on board.
The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board is the latest and one of just a handful of boards to officially adopt the program.
Emily Lukasik, who helps lead the school initiative at Development and Peace and has been involved with D & P since she was 10, hopes the program will keep young people across the Catholic education spectrum connected to their faith.
“It’s those formative times when I was younger that really put the issues D & P talks about on my heart,” said Lukasik. “Even as an adult, one of the big reasons that I’ve stayed connected to my faith is the fact that I see the connection it has to justice… If you become passionate about it at a young age, hopefully, it’s what keeps you passionate about social justice and your faith.”
Through the programs, students have various missions to complete in their school community, each of which earn their school a badge.
The first task is flipping a world map upside down to encourage students to re-think the way they see the world. The simple task is a conversation starter as it shifts the preferential position to the world’s poor by putting folks who are in the global south, where Development and Peace’s work is based, at the top of the map.
Another upcoming badge is Dress Down, Speak Up for students to raise awareness of fast fashion and sweatshop labour. D & P suggests participating schools hold this on April 23 — the 10-year anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 people and injured more than 2,500.
For Malia Alfonso, a student at Cardinal Carter Catholic Secondary School in Leamington, ON, the program hits close to home. Adopted from Ethiopia by a Canadian family, she is excited to be able help people in her birth country. She’s been able to visit the West African nation and seen first-hand the struggles faced by many of its citizens.
“I have a sense of pride in our school community and in Windsor-Essex County for being a part of this and for wanting to make a change,” said Alfonso. “I think this is fundamental to our faith. Jesus taught us to love each other and to be there for each other and to forgive. I think that this is definitely a way that we can put those things into practice.”
London Bishop Ronald Fabbro brought the program to the attention of staff in the district last fall. Rick Frias, the board’s religious studies, religion and family life consultant, has championed the program since. Roughly 80 per cent of schools in the district are actively participating in the program.
Like Lukasik, Frias became involved with Development and Peace in his formative years and cultivated a passion for service to communities around the world.
Frias hopes the program will bring students closer to the heart of Jesus as it gives school communities the opportunity to bring to the forefront the age-old question — “How did we treat the poor?”
“If this tool brings students closer to Jesus, to the point where they see that this is at the heart of our faith, our teaching and our gathering every Sunday, then I hope and pray it draws them close enough that they will be continue to be part of our (Catholic) community,” said Frias.