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Pictured: Be the Light participants and leaders at Buffalo RiverWorks after a day of team building on Wednesday, July 24


High school students from around the world traveled to Canisius to take part in the 4th annual Be the Light Youth Theology Institute (BTLI) from Sunday, July 21 – Saturday, July 27. With the help of Canisius undergraduate student leaders and institute staff, these participants explored the faith that does justice through justice-themed immersion experiences and presentations, academic instruction, reflection, prayer and faith-sharing.

This year, students came from Buffalo, Cortland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Newfoundland and the Federated States of Micronesia. While in Buffalo, they traveled to the West Side Bazaar and the Rural Outreach Center located in East Aurora, NY to hear about their work promoting justice in the community. They also heard on-campus presentations from Open Buffalo and Voice Buffalo. Students received academic instruction from various Canisius faculty, staff and friends. The topics of these instructions included structures of sin and systemic causes of injustice, solidarity in Catholic social teaching and the relationships between justice, human rights and power. Students also worked through a project-planning template to develop a justice-themed project that focuses on an issue that they found relevant in their own community. Examples of issues these students decided to address in their projects include enhancing awareness and education about mental health in high schools and tackling local effects of climate change. Each day began and ended with prayer and faith-sharing, ensuring that the day’s activities were framed by exercises of faith. The institute formally closed with a mass at Christ the King Chapel and a dinner to celebrate their accomplishments.

BTLI 2020, which will be the 5th annual Be the Light Youth Theology Institute (BTLI), will take place from Sunday, July 19 – Saturday, July 25. Rising sophomore, junior or senior high school students in the 2020-21 academic year and who have not been a participant in BTLI before are eligible to apply. Applicants must also have a nominator (i.e. youth minister, pastor or teacher; not a parent or sibling) fill out a nomination form for them. Applications will open later in 2019 and will be available on BTLI’s website. For more information, follow BTLI on Facebook and Instagram at btli_canisius.

BTLI was founded at Canisius in 2015 thanks to a generous grant from the Lilly Foundation, Inc. More information about the Lilly Foundation’s Youth Theology Network may be found here.

Donations to sustain the work of the Institute once the grant ends are certainly welcome. Please contact the co-directors, Stephen Chanderbhan, associate professor of philosophy, at or Darby Ratliff, co-director for BTLI, at for more information.

Submitted by: Stephen Chanderbhan, co-director, Be the Light Youth Theology Institute; associate professor, Philosophy