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Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue Congress, Bilbao-2005

@Daniela Gregori
Information-paper about the intercultural and interreligious Internship Programme of young people within the framework of the International Congress on Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue

“New Challenges in a World Longing for Peace “
Bilbao, Basque Country,
05 – 15 December 2005

“Nuestro futuro està en saber comprender a los que no piensan y actúan como nosotros”

“In our future we should try to understand the persons that think and act different”

On Monday, 5th of December 2005, 16 young people from 14 different nationalities and five religions arrived at Bilbao to form part of the “Youth Internship Programme on the Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue” seven days before the beginning of the main-congress: Within the framework of the Congress “Nuevos desafíos en un mundo que ansía la paz” which took place in Bilbao from 11. - 13. December 2005 a group of young people from different places of different continents got the opportunity to get in contact and to share their experiences with their own but also with other cultures and religions.

Already at the first dinner, a great and harmonious atmosphere could be felt, although all the members of the group come from different cultures and various religious backgrounds. Every person was curious to know more about his/her neighbour and to get in contact with him/her.

Indeed, during the whole Internship Programme and the volunteer-work at the Congress, the group was growing together more and more. We were never afraid to say our own opinion and we were always able to find an open ear for our thoughts.

Each morning, we met to have a common meditation and after having changed the first words at breakfast, we shared about our religions and life in our cultures. It was very interesting to listen to the participants while presenting their group of origin, their religious traditions and the different kinds of lives based on the Bahai, Brahma Kumaris, Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith.

In our first reflection, we were invited to think about the question: Who am I? What can influence my identity? Is my identity always in change or is it fixed once created? Every person creates his/her own identity with his/her own values and is influenced by different circumstances. We have to see that every expression of religion is based on local interpretation. That means that every common cultural or religious manifestation must be seen in its background, history, traditions and geography that are forming our spiritual values, thoughts and actions.

Before sharing our reflection together with all the participants, we shared it in small groups. We became delft into our results and went even deeper in the subject - matter.

After our “personal sharings” we heard a presentation of a participant of our group about the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC):

It is a Chicago-based (USA) non-profit working with contacts around the country that combines service learning, a shared values methodology, and facilitated dialogue to bring together young people from different faith traditions to work for the common good. It creates and sustains a safe, respectful, and collaborative space in which young people from different faiths share their religious values with the hands, heart, and head, celebrating their work together in building “The Beloved Community”: a community of all faith communities envisioned by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The second question for reflection was Who are the others?

About this second part in our internship-sharing we thought about how we could interpret “the other”? What does he/she look like for me?

Can I get in contact with him without overstepping his/her personal boundaries but by respecting his way of living?

We came to a common understanding that all the people with whom we have been interacting are all human beings with their own ways of living and their own ways of thinking. But we have all one important thing in common: independent of our cultural and religious backgrounds we all want to try to accept and respect each other and to co-operate for a peaceful and harmonious living together.

As a group we have learned that there will always be boundaries and different kinds of expressing your faith, but it is important to get in dialogue and to live WITH our differences and to learn FROM each other. The world can be much more colourful, like a gaudy field of many flowers, if only we could understand that we have to create our world together not against each other.

The first step of getting in contact should be through dialogue. We need to acknowledge that dialogue sometimes can be very hard and difficult. But only the one who wants to look at this matter will be able to glance behind the façade. Instead of seeing the persons that are around us just as “THE other” we should see them as “Another” to demonstrate our attempt for a peaceful world.

The second introduction of living the faith was given by another member of our youth-group from the Brahma Kumaris Faith:

The spiritual University Brahma Kumaris is an international organisation that works for a positive change in Society’s social areas. Founded in 1937 they organize various educational programmes to support the development of human and spiritual values: they work in different areas, such as women, environment, social development, educational values, health and human rights. The centres offer courses, conferences and workshops based on meditation and positive values, while training the participants to recognize their veritable potential and make them realize the dignity of their lives.

As we went on with our Internship-dialogue, we thought about what we could contribute to a respectful and peaceful living together? How can we produce an understanding within the different cultural and religious basics? How can the diversity be accepted and respected to create a unity in this diversity?

There are many ways of practising religions; none is better or worse than the other. At the same time religions and beliefs are the most intimate things that a person can possess. If we understand these two aspects it is easier to become reconciled. We cannot only pay attention to our own point of view but it is also very important to think about how we would feel, (re)act and what we would expect if we were somebody else. We should not forget that we have to accept everyone’s boundaries and, by getting in dialogue in a practical way, we can make these barriers smaller.

One participant from the Baha’i also shared with us the Baha’i faith:

It is a world religion based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892). He explained that there is only one God and one human family, and that all religions are spiritually united. Though the Bahá’í around the world come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, they are united by their belief in Bahá’u’lláh teachings and by their desire for a united, prosperous, and peaceful future for all of humanity. The Bahá’í Faith represents essentially the renewal of religion with teachings relevant to contemporary needs and the requirements of humanity’s collective future.

All the participants of the Internship youth-group had the opportunity to get in contact and in dialogue with different organisations of the Basque country. So it was very interesting and exciting to visit a Muslim Basque group in their assembly hall, to celebrate a catholic prayer, to stroll over the typical Basque Book-Fair in Durango or to be invited to a dinner at the house of Bahá’í.

Time and time again we could experience the diversity of our thoughts and feelings. We learnt a lot from each other, not only by sharing but also by reflecting some particularly situations by demonstrating our sentiments and trying to understand them in a great subjective and at the same time objective dialogue.

During the Congress we extended our hands as volunteers of the organisation team. We also became the liaison between the participants of the congress and organising committee.

To sum up, the Internship Programme was felt as a great and fantastic experience for the participants. We could have a harmonious atmosphere and dynamics. There is no doubt that in these ten days a close contact between the young people was developed and we could feel a friendship between everyone of us despite the different cultures and religions.

The Internship Programme could be compared with a great round hall with many closed doors all around it. After the congress and the Internship programme a few doors are opened and now it is our turn to go behind these doors to see what they hide and to get deeper in it. It is a great challenge because we do not know what will expect us. But we have to go into it to get in contact with other cultures and religions.

We all live in one world and we all have one future – so let us put our hands in the hand of our neighbour

and take care about our world to live in peace and harmony not only by talking about the peace in theoretical words but also, and that’s the most important thing, by acting and getting in dialogue!

Daniela Gregori, Germany
Participant at the youth group

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