The smiles were contagious at a Peace Camp designed for middle school students by the Children of Abraham Coalition, that returned last month. After being sidelined during the pandemic, the camp resumed, drawing young people to gather with high school and college-aged leaders to learn about interfaith literacy, relationships and reverence for different religions.

On Day 1, campers learn about the Torah from Cantor Scott Simon at Temple Chai.

“This event is important because religious-based fear and hate start early,” says Fr. Corey Brost, CSV. “During the camp, even sixth graders can identify it and have experienced it. Our goal is to help these kids grow in interfaith literacy, while also learning skills to speak out against faith-based bigotry and bullying.”

Over the course of two days, they visited a mosque, synagogue and a Christian church in Chicago’s North and Northwest suburbs. At each stop, students received a tour as well as a presentation about each faith tradition and its important artifacts.

Fr. Corey founded the Children of Abraham Coalition in 2010 in response to the growing number of hate-based events in the wake of 9/11. Right from the start, he offered events that promoted interfaith dialogue between people of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith traditions.

Students learn about the Muslim faith at the Islamic Society of Midwest.

Pastor Erin Clausen demonstrates some of the forms of Christian prayer at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.

In 2018, it was the teen board members of the Children of Abraham Coalition who conceived the idea of a camp for middle school students, after experiencing faith-based bigotry themselves.

“Through the years, we’ve seen kids return to the camp and then get involved in more interfaith youth events through the year,” Fr. Corey says. “The result is they grow in their knowledge of — and reverence for — other faiths, while making friendships that motivate them to speak out against stereotypes.

“They tell stories about how they’ve spoken out,” he adds, “and how the skills we’ve taught them for speaking out have helped them.”