A contingent of students from schools from around the Diocese participate in the Day of Peace held in September at the United Nations. Theresa Shubeck photo
A contingent of students from schools from around the Diocese participate in the Day of Peace held in September at the United Nations. Theresa Shubeck photo
On the eve of this Fall’s United Nations General Assembly, when world leaders would gather to discuss such critical issues as war, climate change and the pandemic, some 700 students from around the globe gathered to participate in the International Day of Peace Youth Observance: End Racism. Build Peace.

Among them was a contingent of students from Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton who had ferried to midtown Manhattan early on that September 16 morning.  Their participation in the Day of Peace was part of their involvement in the Pathways to Peace program that first emerged locally out of a now-shuttered independent school, Mater Dei Prep in Middletown. The lessons and skills learned in that program – such as effective communication, leadership and collaboration, tolerance and respect for others, and conflict resolution – have been carried by the youthful participants, referred to as Global Leaders, into their new Catholic schools and their communities where they believe they are called to do their part to build a better world.

Affiliation with the program was facilitated by Pathways to Peace UN representative George Anthony, who trained and advised the students in Mater Dei and St. Mary School in Middletown and now has championed them as they moved to different schools, including Red Bank Catholic High School in Red Bank and St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel.  The results of these efforts are reflected in the conviction, composure and optimistic vision demonstrated by the Global Leaders who took part in the Day of Peace and who strive to bring their hopeful initiative to other arenas of their lives.

LEADING THE WAY

Take for instance Global Leader Emma DeBiase, a Red Bank Catholic senior, who was recently bestowed the Exceptional Young Woman of Peace Award sponsored by Pathways to Peace. She shared with The Monitor at the UN, “We are the generation that can change the world.” Emma is working to start a student group called “Peace Talks,” setting her sights on it becoming a podcast to engage individuals to share their thoughts, emotions and strategies on peace or a better world.   

And there is Mia Rodriguez, a senior at St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, who gave an address before the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding the role of youth today in shaping peace in our world. From the UN’s Economic and Social Council Chamber, Mia stated: “I am standing before the United Nations today to show that it is possible to use your voice to create change, even in your youth…it takes courage to create change.  Most of the justice served in our world is because someone had to be bold and speak their truth even if what they were saying was difficult to hear.”

Mia’s call to action is intended for every person regardless of their place in this world.  In her address, she proclaimed: “We must work across generations, cultures, ethnicities and faith traditions. Together we can work towards peace and be the change we wish to see in the world.”

It is both the development of leadership skills and service opportunities that have attracted Red Bank Catholic High School administration to institute the Global Leaders program. As principal Karen Falco described, “Service is an enormous part of Red Bank Catholic. We have always stressed that Catholic means universal.  The UN is another universal body in action.  Student enthusiasm and commitment has driven our school’s interest in implementing this program.”

Presentations by students from around the world at the UN’s youth day gave witness to the credibility of matching action with values. A California high schooler widened the lens on history by highlighting the internment of Japanese civilians in the 1940s. Students from Westchester County (New York), whose relatives died in concentration camps, encouraged their peers to never forget the Holocaust and its threat to religious freedom.  A teen from Malaysia pointed to ways that individuals of different races collaborated to change discriminatory practices. A student from the Bronx documented the higher rate of food insecurity in his community versus the other four boroughs of NYC.

These presentations inspired students to see the world through a new perspective.  As St. John Vianney senior Cathrine Volk described, “Many things we don’t think of as discriminatory, we realize really are. It is important to learn about that in history class so when we go out into the world, working in business or other professions, we do so with that understanding.”

SEEDS OF CHANGE

St. Mary School students who have been involved in Anthony’s program are referred to as Emerging Global Leaders.  They assume a formal role as student ambassadors in their school and are acknowledged for their peacemaking efforts by their peers and administrators.

St. Mary eighth grader Michael O’Neal said that among kids his age, “Bullying is a big problem especially with the color of your skin and different races, and it has to stop.” 

School counselor Katie Anderson looks to the ambassadors to set the tone for anti-bullying, and credits them with promoting an atmosphere of acceptance and support.  She stated, “They are the examples for the school.”

Anderson feels that when these ambassadors from SMS visit the United Nations, there is tremendous value in their exposure to other countries and different cultures. The ambassadors’ goals can then align with the goals of the UN.

Lila Kaminoff shared her impressions of the day that she planned to bring back to SMS: “A big takeaway for me is that there are so many different ethnicities and races, and people can come together without any issues.  No one was judging each other.”

Anthony Bennett was encouraged by the day, remarking, “People came together. They have more in common than different.”

Luca DeVito was impressed with action plans and impact, sharing that “I liked how everyone got up and talked about how to fix things.”

Likewise, Kyle Evans stressed how students can learn from each other, “We can implement good ideas from others. I was impressed that people from different groups all around the world shared their opinions about how we can be at peace.”

CATHOLIC CONNECTION

Mia Rodriquez’s role as a Global Leader makes perfect sense to her parents, who acknowledge that their Catholic faith is central in their lives. Jason and Thannya Rodriquez state, “God is a big part of every decision we make as a family.  Everything we have, or hope to have, is through God and of God.  Our daughter has strengthened our faith in God.”

For Anthony, working with young people in the Global Leaders program is a unique experience that ties in well with their Catholic faith.  He stated, “We learn together through young people.  We all become part of something larger than ourselves.”

He reinforces for the students, “You can’t do it alone. You need to make Jesus a big part of that equation. When you work with other people and are passionate, you can create something powerful and positive that you can give back to the world.”

For further information about the Pathways to Peace program, reach out to Anthony at georgeanthony4@aol.com.