Nicholas Pang is one of eight young Canadians chosen by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to work for 10 months in an inter-faith group devoted to achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.
Nicholas Pang of St. George’s parish in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que. is one of eight young Canadians and 30 young people who have been chosen as ambassadors for the Faith Acts program, a youth leadership project established to bring together people of different faiths to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals, particularly helping to end deaths from malaria.
The Faith Acts Fellowship is an initiative of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in collaboration with the Belinda Stronach Foundation in Canada and the Interfaith Youth Core, which is based in the U.S. The 30 youth from Canada, the U.K. and U.S. will train in London and Chicago for a month, do field work in a malaria-endemic country in Africa for a month, and then work for eight months in inter-religious pairs to educate and animate faith communities in England and North America to raise funds and awareness about the campaign against malaria.
“I am delighted we have been able to select such an outstanding and admirable group of young people from the hundreds who applied for a position in the fellowship,” the former British prime minister said in a press release. “I believe that by faiths coming together to tackle the problem of malaria deaths, as a part of a global coalition, we can really prevent this disease,” Mr. Blair said.
Mr. Pang, 22, will graduate from McGill University in Montreal this spring with a B.A. in religious studies. He first heard about the fellowship opportunity when Judy Steers, national youth ministry co-ordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada, sent an email with information about the fellowship. Mr. Pang said he felt “pretty lucky and excited” to be a part of the project, which is just getting off the ground this year. “I’m really looking forward to the exposure trip and the planning aspect of it, and to working as part of an interfaith team and working with the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism (in Montreal). They are providing office space and I think being able to tap into their networks will be quite interesting,” he said.
Richard Chambers, director of the University of Toronto’s Multi-faith Centre, will be working with students in Toronto. “It is exciting that Mr. Blair is really modeling that faith communities do not need to be relegated to the private sphere but are an integral part of the public sphere or arena and need to play a role in civil society by helping to define and promote the common good,” he said. “There is a popular perception that religions can be divisive and a source of conflict, so this is a wonderful, positive initiative.”
Mr. Chambers said that the goal is to create a social movement. “The University of Toronto has 60 faith groups on campus, and so we’ll be working with students in those faith communities and also students who are just interested generally in the Millennium Development Goals. But then we’ll also be working with community partners and that could be at the regional level and there could be some national co-ordination,” he said. The faith fellows will focus on education and support. Support, Mr. Chambers said, could be encouraging people to push their member of Parliament to uphold the federal government’s commitments to the Millennium Development Goals or suggesting donations to charities working on anti-malaria campaigns such as the Belinda Stronach Foundation. “What we hope will surface is that the Anglican Church will say, ‘Well, we’re already doing this work with partners in Africa to deal with malaria, and the good news is the fellows will go around and talk that up,” he said.
While Mr. Blair was in Toronto, he and former MP Belinda Stronach met with leaders from a broad spectrum of faiths to discuss the critical role faith communities can have in working for social justice, specifically in eradicating malaria.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, participated in the first such roundtable discussion hosted by Mr. Blair in December, but he was at the house of bishops meeting in Niagara Falls when the second meeting happened in Toronto. Beth Baskin of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund represented him at the roundtable. “I was really impressed by Tony Blair’s focus and faith in the interfaith community,” she said. Ms. Baskin said she also thought the approach of bringing faiths together by working for a common social justice goal was fascinating. “One person described it as ‘Often, when you start with interfaith conversations, you start with trying to convince the head and then the heart and then the hands go to work,’ and what we said here is that we have to start with the hands, so we have to focus on this malaria project if we are indeed going to come together to support the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the Belinda Stronach Foundation.”