Last February, 35 youth and young adults from across Canada gathered in Ottawa for an immersive, educational and practical symposium on advocacy organized by the Canadian Jesuits International (CJI). Often Canadians, myself included, mistakenly believe that because we are not primary participants in our government’s day-to-day workings, we do not have a say in what is happening in our country. Furthermore, we think we cannot make a difference because it is limited to one check mark on a ballot.
The CJI symposium helped us realize that this is not the case and that our voices have power that goes beyond the ballot. Our Members of Parliament in each of our areas are our representatives in the House. They want to hear from us on issues that are important to us. They bring to the House of Commons the concerns and opinions of their own constituents. If we do not make our voices heard collectively, then they cannot take appropriate action on the issues that matter most to us.
Ottawa was the perfect place for us to gather from all across Canada for this symposium so that we could be close to our political center. The three days were more than just educational. After learning about the voice and power that we have as Canadians, we were then able to discuss issues we care about with some of our respective elected officials or their staff. This gave us a concrete and hands-on experience in applying the things we had learned at the conference.
With our amazing hosts, Pieter and Jenny, guiding us throughout our time together, we learned about the Jesuits’ mission and Catholic social teaching and how this motivates us to take real action in our world. Truly we cannot be satisfied with the status quo. We must constantly be pushing the boundaries for a better world together. Pieter and Jenny shared their motivation for a vision of the world that is sustainable, just, dignified, and inclusive. They guided us to fully understand how, although many human atrocities occur on the other side of the world, there is always a connection back home. In our globalized world, the words of Martin Luther King speak all the louder: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
My time in Ottawa at the JUST Change Advocacy Symposium was simply a wonderful time. It opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of the world, the effectiveness of advocacy and how much of a voice I have in politics here in Canada. I am grateful to Canadian Jesuits International for putting their time and effort into hosting this symposium and equipping us with the tools we need to make real change, in our country and in our world.