On a scorching hot day, over 200 youth gathered at John Abbot College in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, a town located at the western tip of the Island of Montreal. It was among the first in a series of youth conferences to be held around the world over the course of the next four months. Young people hailing from the Atlantic Provinces, Nunavut, and the Quebec regions of Canada, gathered to consult on themes including the unique role of youth, fostering mutual support, and contributing to the advancement of civilization.
It is difficult to imagine the challenges faced by the inhabitants of Nunavut—the northernmost territory of Canada—when planning a visit to a neighbouring community. It was a source of great joy, therefore, that four youth from that region were able to attend the conference. One shared his experience in making the journey south to Montreal: “to get here you can find a whale and hang on, you can swim, or you can just take a plane and fly”. Deciding to fly, he called the local airline on the day of the conference to see if he could get a reduced rate––the only way it would be possible for him to attend. When he explained the purpose of the conference he received a significant discount, and two hours later he was on the plane.
“Having service at the center of your life. The period of youth is finite and it’s a moral obligation to care about those who are younger than you, throughout your life. But especially when you are a youth because you can still relate to those younger than you”
A participant at the conference
Workshops began in a spirit of anticipation and excitement as one participant noted, “The joy at this conference is a testament … that community building is actually underway.” Despite the unseasonal heat wave in Saint-Ann-de-Bellevue, and lack of air conditioning at the conference venue, the energy and enthusiasm of the youth prevailed.
As the groups gathered in the gymnasium and on corners of the spacious lawns, they reflected on how to continue to build their lives in a way that service to the community, study, family, and work are aspects that complement and even strengthen one another. One participant commented: “studying can also be a source of inspiration for service.”
After spending time together between sessions and at lunch and dinner, the workshops regrouped to examine more closely the positive and negative forces that are experienced in different spaces in a community. Some participants observed that, among their peers, competition with others is often expected. In this connection, they discussed the importance of fostering a spirit of teamwork and cooperation. And another participant, who each week offers a children’s class in the park of her neighbourhood, spoke about the power of the force of understanding. She said about the children in her class: “All of them are happy because the classes help them with their daily lives and give them spiritual wisdom. They learn new things and it creates in their friends a thirst for the same kind of knowledge.”
The youth expressed their insights through the arts, by developing purposeful and creative skits, murals, and songs. In the evenings, songs in French, English, and Inuktitut could be heard from the open windows of the Casgrain building’s gymnasium. And later, the strains of a fiddle as the participants celebrated the day with traditional Quebecois music.
The bonds formed before and during the conference had a profound impact on the hearts and minds of the participants. While reflecting together about true friendship, a participant mentioned that “to encourage others, to serve together, to engage in a meaningful conversation, and to meet face-to-face” is true friendship. Another shared “Friendship is a relationship between two souls … We are here to praise God. True bonds of friendship were created.”
A group photo of the participants
The participants listened attentively as their friends shared ideas in their groups
One of the workshop sessions discussed the role of youth in assisting those younger than themselves
The study of the materials was enhanced by creative expression through the arts
One group studies and reflects on a section of the materials with the assistance of a facilitator
Youth taking advantage of a shady area to carry out their discussions
Discussions began in large groups and then broke into smaller ones in order to explore the ideas in light of their local realities
Many youth shared artistic presentations during the conference
The conference was filled with both purposeful study and joyful fellowship