Canadian-born Antoine Beland took up his position as the new International Coordinator of the Young Lasallians last month.
He took over from the movement's first coordinator, Malta-born Joseph Gilson who served in the role for six years.
How did you get involved in the Young Lasallians?
My journey is not a typical one. Where I come from (Québec, the French-speaking part of Canada), the Brothers are not involved in schools anymore. They run retreat centres, summer camps and after-school programs. So I was a volunteer at Camp De-La-Salle when I was young and then gradually took up leadership roles at the camps. After my first summer there, I was invited to a District event, and from that point I was hooked.
What led you to take up the position of International Coordinator?
In February 2014 I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the 3rd International Symposium of Young Lasallians at the Generalate, in Rome. I suppose I did well, because the following summer I was invited to become a member of the International Council of Young Lasallians (ICYL), which coordinates the Young Lasallians movement throughout the Institute. Working in this Council convinced me that I wanted to get involved as much as possible in the growth of the Lasallian Educational Mission among young people. So when I was asked if I was interested in applying for the job, I immediately said yes, and after a long selection process, I had the honor of being chosen.
One of your first tasks in the new role has been to promote the International Lasallian Days of Peace from 21st September through to 21st October. How significant an event is this for Young Lasallians?
This event is gaining more and more momentum every year, and there is no coincidence here. The world needs peace, now more than ever, especially the youth, as they are bombarded everyday by news of wars, human crises and terrorism. The International Lasallian Days for Peace are an opportunity to remind us that, despite all this, peace is possible, that every action counts, and that every single person has the power to do something, to the extent of his or her means. I think that's very significant.
You'll be coming to Australia in November to attend the Young Lasallians inaugural district conference. What are your hopes for our district of Australia New Zealand Pakistan and Papua New Guinea in the broader Lasallian family?
First I hope that I will be able to learn as much as possible about your district and from those who are a part of the Lasallian Family in Australia, New Zealand Pakistan and Papua New-Guinea. ANZPPNG has been a pioneer in investing for the future, developing programs which are creative and an answer to the needs of today and involving youth at every level and in every area of the Lasallian Educational Mission. This upcoming conference, along with the excitement that surrounds it, is a great example of the vision which moves your district forward. Your district plays and has to continue to play an important role in the broader Lasallian Family as a model to follow.
One of the challenges for the Young Lasallians has been reaching the 18-35 age group who may have attended Lasallian schools, but may have lost contact with the Lasallian family. What strategies do you believe are needed to reach this group?
That's a challenge that I take very seriously, because there is a great need all across the Institute to come up with creative initiatives to tackle this challenge. Coming from a background where we didn't have any captive audience at all, and therefore were always forced to be creative to find new ways to connect with the young, I am aware that it's not always easy. It is a complex issue. First, I think that we have to approach it a different way. If this transition is prepared appropriately while those young people are in the schools, we can fix the problem before it even appears. When students graduate, their schedule changes, their needs change, their life changes! We have to not only be aware of that, but fully embrace it and know exactly what are these other needs to which we will have to respond. If we have something to offer them, not only will they keep contact, but they will go even further on their Lasallian journey. Moreover, some schools and institutions are doing a terrific job at keeping their alumni in the Lasallian Family. Let's share the success stories and tackle this together!