By Susan Gately - 21 February, 2015
Christians and Muslims from Ireland and the UK meet to build bridges of understanding at Focolare gathering on dialogue.
“Create opportunities of dialogue with everyone…dialogue is what makes us human beings: to dialogue with somebody different from us does not diminish us, but makes us more true to ourselves.”
This was the message of Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali, resident Imam and director of the Islamic Centre of England via Skype to a group of 80 Christian and Muslim young people gathered in London last weekend for an event entitled ‘Multiculturalism – Interfaith – Dialogue: #DoYouCare?’
It was organised by the Focolare movement.
Nineteen young people travelled to the Regenerate event from Ireland.
The weekend featured talks and practical experiences of engaging in dialogue with people of different faith backgrounds.
“The weekend’s theme came in the form of a question #DoYouCare?,” said Conleth Burns from Ballycastle.
“The answer came by dancing Irish, Morris or Flamenco dance together, learning some Arabic, Swahili or Slovakian. This answer had a clear message for all – dialogue is necessary for our being, it is a 24/7/365 lifeline!”
Cathal Milner from Limerick said Regenerate was a chance to “gain more understanding of my own beliefs while engaging in dialogue with people of other faiths.”
In introducing the weekend, a presenter quoted from Pope Francis’ book, Heaven and Earth which the Pope co-authored with Rabbi Abraham Skorka.
“Dialogue is born of an attitude of respect towards another person, of a conviction that the other person has something good to say; it requires that we make space in our head for their point of view, their opinion and their position. Entering in dialogue involves a heartfelt welcome and not prior condemnation. To dialogue, one has to lower one’s defences, open the doors of one’s home and offer human warmth.”
During the weekend, the presenter and documentary producer, Angela Graham from Belfast, spoke movingly of her own experience as a young person growing up at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Angela, who has worked with BBC Wales, Channel 4 and ITV, encouraged those present to be ‘people of dialogue’ in their own environments and seek to build bridges with people of other faiths and from different cultures.
During the weekend, the young adults involved engaged in workshops on a range of topics including interfaith dialogue, social media and politics and civic engagement.
“It [the weekend] made me realise that our differences are not an obstacle but an aid to build something together and discover that we have so much in common,” said Lucia De Santis (22) a student involved with Focolare through the group Youth for a United World.
“I’m very happy to be here”, said 26 year-old Mohammed Mozaffari, a member of Islamic Unity Society from London. “It has been very refreshing to meet people who are so passionate about living and working for God.”
Local Councillor Michal Siewniak said, “It is so encouraging to see young adults from different faith backgrounds engaging in dialogue with one another and seeking to find answers together on how to live harmoniously in a multicultural, multifaith society.”