Connecting Youth through Religion

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Kaity Wuebbolt

Kaity Wuebbolt

Kaity Wuebbolt is a graduate of the Print Journalism program at Sheridan College. She is always curious about finding out about people and hearing their stories. She enjoys every aspect of journalism, especially video, writing, photography and design. Although just starting her career, Kaity hopes to go far in the journalism field. In her down time she reads, watches a lot of movies and sings really bad karaoke.

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Religion has always been a hot-button topic. Whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Atheism or any other religion, what most people seem to focus on are their differences: Christianity follows Jesus, Islam follows the Prophet Muhammad, Buddhism follows Buddha. Judaism says one thing, Atheists another. But there are certain things that all religions believe in – one of them is young people and their future.

Rabbi Stephen Wise, the rabbi of Shaarei-Beth El Synagogue in Oakville and father of three, strongly believes in the power of youth groups to bring young people and society together.

“Youth group is a place where there’s no peer pressure, no bullying, where you can just be yourself” – Rabbi Stephen Wise

“I think (youth groups) gives a strong sense of community. It stretches beyond other people, beyond school, and helps to give a sense of belonging and tradition. It really gives a sense of identity.” Rabbi Wise runs a small youth group for his congregation, and is trying to increase the feeling of connectedness between them and other Jewish youth groups throughout Canada by improving communication, and taking his group to events where they can meet other Jewish youth.

“Youth group is a place where there’s no peer pressure, no bullying, where you can just be yourself,” he says. “Judaism fits nicely into the diverse Canadian identity – they compliment each other. It would be a shame to lose the unique aspects of each culture: the food, the dancing, the rituals. We continue with our traditions through our young people.”

Reverend Morar Murray-Hayes, head of the Maplegrove United Church and mother to several children of her own, believes strongly that one of the best ways to get youth involved in their community is through volunteer work.

“(Our) children grow up in the church. They learn leadership skills while trying to develop their spiritual side. We personally live in one of the wealthiest areas of one of the wealthiest towns in Ontario, but we really try to raise our young people to live strong and just lives.” The youth group of Maplegrove runs various fundraisers throughout the year, as well as getting involved on a more personal level with the congregation itself. Three of Maplegrove’s youth developed the Sunday school curriculum for the smaller children of the congregation, and many volunteer to help run Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs and other parish-run initiatives.

“There’s a real sense that people want to be here,” says Reverend Murray-Hayes. “That’s not true of every church. We really want this to be a safe place to develop and question your relationship with God, because we all have questions and doubt in our faith journey. We work hard at being a safe and accepting community.”

Aliyah Khan, a professor of clinical medicine at McMaster University and a devoted Muslim, dedicates much of her time trying to dispel harmful and misleading myths about Islam. She claims that the Qura’an teaches that all killing, including that of animals, is forbidden.

A nation may be justified in engaging in war to protect people from oppression and injustice; however, a single person can never take the law into their own hands and decide it is appropriate to attack another human being.

“Whoever kills a soul, it is as if he has killed all mankind and whoever saves a life, it is as if he has saved all mankind.” – Qura’an 5:32.

Dr. Khan also believes that forging strong ties in a community is essential to keeping youth safe from bad influences, depression, and suicide.

“I think that isolated youth are the most at risk. The teen years are difficult years, and you’re asking yourself all these questions, like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Do I belong here?’ There’s often a lot of peer pressure regarding popularity and acceptance. Without a family or a community to support you, it’s quite easy to become depressed and vulnerable.” Dr. Khan maintains that Islam teaches three things: love, peace and mercy. Her concern is that many youth either fall into the trap that Islam promotes killing and terrorism, or that youth are scared away from Islam because they think that terrorism is all that it is.

“Those who kill in the name of Islam do not follow our teachings. They are the worst kind of people,” she says. “All religions support the concept of love, harmony and respect. Religion helps youth to connect with their peers and their community. And if a youth is not religious, they can still find good connections from school councilors and community leaders. Our youth are our future, and we all want to help support and nurture them.”



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