The world’s oldest monotheistic religion has taken steps to empower its youth and preserve the faith for the future.
Zoroastrians, as they wound up their 14th North American Congress in Toronto this week, emphasized mentorship and the need for unity among the scattered faithful.
“We are moving the identity issue forward,” said prominent Toronto Zoroastrian Daraius Bharucha, “empowering our youth, showcasing the community, while saying, `We are a diaspora that has now arrived.'”
For the first time at a congress, youth activities, such as mentoring and entrepreneurship programs, ran alongside sessions on history, heritage and religious matters.
Bharucha represents the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario, which hosted the congress that ran from June 30 to July 2 at the Sheraton Parkway North Hotel.
More than 600 Zoroastrians from around the world attended, out of the 150,000 members of the faith worldwide. The religion was founded in 1500 BCE by the prophet Zarathustra.
Many Zoroastrians – 69,000 of them – live in India, where they are also called Parsis. Toronto has the third largest population, preceded only by the Indian cities of Mumbai and Pune.
In fact, Zoroastrians in India participated in the conference via teleconferencing. Two of India’s top Parsi industrialists – Ratan Tata, chair of the $60 billion Tata Enterprise; and Nadir Godrej, managing director of Godrej Industries – stressed youth mentorship.
“We must have people who are more privileged (in North America) and who have risen in their fields to mentor these young people in India,” Tata said.
Minoo Shroff, who flew to Toronto from Mumbai for the event, is chair of the Bombay Parsi Panchayet, the central body of the community.
“Our past has been great, but it is in our hands to make the future, and the youth really hold the key to our future,” he said in his inaugural address.
Zarine Chenoy tried to put that idea into action. “We want an open dialogue of ideas between the elderly and the youth,” she said, signing up young and old for a mentor-mentee program. “The mentor isn’t necessarily the older person here,” she pointed out. “I have a young mentor in the U.S. who teaches me to blog or how to WiFi.”
Like many ethnic communities, Zoroastrians find it a big task to maintain their identity. Religion teacher Mona Antia attributes the problem to young people trying to fit into the Canadian mainstream.
“It’s so easy to totally lose your roots, if you don’t bring them (youth) to the Darbe mehr (community centre),” she said.
Chenoy said an initiative to encourage youth to stand for office in the upcoming elections will send a direct message that Zoroastrians are serious about young people’s participation.
But Arash Zohoor, a young participant who was raised in Toronto, said the real problem is a disconnect with older members.
“We’ve formed our own communities here and have grown up with them,” said Zohoor.
He said it’s a tough choice between attending Sunday activities at the Darbe mehr or hanging out with his friends.
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