Multi-faith program takes on environmental stewardship

Four UTM students collaborated with Greening Sacred Spaces and Credit Valley Conservation to organize the first multi-faith environmental retreat through U of T’s Religious Diversity Youth Leadership program on Saturday.

The event, entitled “Religion Revealed in Nature: A Multi-Faith Approach to Environmental Stewardship”, featured talks, prayers, and activities centred on nature and caring for the environment. The day-long workshop was held at the Terra Cotta Conservation Area in Halton Hills.

“There is a strong connection between science, the environment, and spirituality. When we recognize our interconnectedness with the environment, we can truly learn to appreciate all of creation,” said Christina Read, the GSS outreach coordinator for South Halton-Peel and the leader of the team that organized the event.

Other members of the team included UTM students Eleni Polonifis, Kate Fung, Reem Hamdonah, and Maria Iqbal.

“An interfaith retreat in a beautiful outdoor setting is perfect for allowing members of the community to express why, through their faith, preserving nature is important,” said Polonifis, a second-year student.

The activities included watercolour painting, yoga, and a walk. The presentations on Sikhism and Islam included a primer on turban-tying and hijab-tying.

“I loved the cozy feeling of it all,” said Hamdonah, referring to the country setting and the close-knit feeling of the group that attended the event.

When interviewed during the event, Roni Beharry, one of the  attendees, said the retreat offered “a safe environment for youth to ask questions and experiment” that allowed people to dispel their misconceptions about religions through “authentic dialogue”.

The retreat was part of the RDYL program, which requires participants to volunteer with community organizations and actively engage in promoting interfaith dialogue and respect for religious diversity. The program was created in 2012 through the U of T Multi-Faith Centre and the Religion in the Public Sphere Initiative and Centre for Community Partnerships and was endowed with a $500,000 grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

This is the first time the initiative has come to UTM. The program involves a religious diversity training session, two community projects, and two one-hour reflections and grants a “Religious Diversity Dialogue Certificate” to students who complete these activities.

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