By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
When Sarbmeet Kanwal and Fatima Jaffari founded Garden State MOSAIC in 2013, they knew it had to involve youth.
Both Kanwal, a Sikh, and Jaffari, a Muslim, were members of interfaith organizations in Monmouth County but wanted that dialogue to be extended to younger generations of different faith communities, since, Kanwal explained, “the youth have the most impact in the future society.”
And so, the multi-faith educational program MOSAIC was born. More than 100 teens across the county take part in the program, which focuses on middle and high school.
Organizers say not only has MOSAIC brought together dozens of youth representing a variety of faiths to learn about the other, it has also taught the teens more about their own beliefs.
This is exactly what happened Oct. 29, when teens from St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, invited MOSAIC to their church.
With the help of Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, rector, teens from the parish youth ministry prepared a question-and-answer session in which topics such as the Sacraments and priest celibacy were discussed with those representing 10 different faith communities.
To prepare for the presentation, students relied on their own faith development, research and the faith leaders in their parish.
Parishioner Anna Juliano, a senior in Freehold Township High School, presented on the importance of weekly Mass attendance.
“It’s very important for everyone to find common things and similarities in our faith,” she offered.
Msgr. Sirianni also showed those in attendance a confessional and invited the youth and their leaders to visit the Co-Cathedral at any time during the Sunday evening Mass that was to follow.
After the question-and-answer session, all in attendance met in the parish hall, where they formed small groups to discuss commonalities their faith shared with Catholicism.
“Even though we have different beliefs, many of our faiths have the same values and beliefs, such as love of neighbor and being charitable to one another,” Kanwal said.
He added that charitable works are also important to the organization. To that end, the teens were all asked to focus on a community service project they would like to accomplish in the next few months.
By working together on projects, Jaffari said, “we can come together and understand that even though this person may not be your brother or sister in faith, they are your brother and sister in humanity.”
While the students brainstormed on future service projects, many were excited to participate in one that is already on the calendar – the Midnight Run. For that effort, students collect clothing and food, travel to New York City and distribute the items to homeless shelters.
“We’re looking forward to the Midnight Run and really want to expand on that,” Juliano said.
Parish teens also said they were looking forward to discussing the facets of some of the faiths they don’t know much about as they continue to participate with MOSAIC.
Nina Lombardi, a freshman at Freehold Township High School, was not only amazed at the common ground shared by the different faiths, but also the willingness of the youth to share. “I was very surprised how open others were in talking about their faith.”
That openness is something that both Kanwal and Jaffari hope to continue and expand upon.
“This is so empowering for them; this is building leadership,” Jaffari said. “They are sharing and speaking about something personal and something not always easy to share about.”
Finding similarities in faith was important to the teens of the Co-Cathedral.
“It’s important to have this dialogue to sort away ignorance and misconceptions,” youth ministry senior Danny Scerbo said. “These discussions and MOSAIC are so important and necessary.”
For more information on MOSAIC, visit www.gardenstatemosaic.org.