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32 young Christians, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, from different European countries, took part in a week long intercultural interfaith seminar “Bridging our differences. Learning skills of intercultural dialogue together!” 31 March 6 April 2014 in Wroclaw, Poland. The seminar was organized by World Students Christian Federation – Europe  (WSCF-E) and Religions for Peace, European Interfaith Youth Network (RfP, EYN).

 

The aim of the seminar was to help young faith leaders to develop skills in communication across cultural divides and being able to engage in dialogue with people of different cultural or religious backgrounds. Seminar opened with interfaith prayers led by Daniela Malec – RfP EIYN Consultant, with fours participants representing different religion, presenting their welcome prayers of welcoming the other in accordance with their respective faith. First full day of the seminar was dedicated to group building sessions led by Thomas Gilet – Co-Coordinator of International  Youth Committee of RfP. During Day 2 participants took part in sessions on culture and "intercultural" - with emphasis on learning intercultural skills, as well participated in workshops on prejudices and cultural judgements, led by trainer Anna Kudarewska from Poland. Daniela, Thomas and 2 other members from Preparatory Committee (Annika and Rachel from WSCF) led role plays for participants; one on labeling people and judging people based on those labels, and how it feels to be stigmatized by some label and to be a member or a stigmatized group); second one on changing one’s position in conflict discussion towards dialogue and listening.

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Third day was dedicated to “dialogue” understood as a method to work with conflicted groups (developed by Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue) and  as way of life, as explained by trainer Christiane SEEHAUSEN from Nansen Center in Lillehammer, Norway. Christiane said dialogue starts with dialogue with ourselves, and active listening – this comes before exchanging thoughts. Listening to the other means empowering the other, lifting people up. Dialogue can only happen when two sides are equal partners. Dialogue means to make people visible, creating equality and building relationships. The goal of dialogue is understanding the other, as opposed to a debate, that has a goal of winning. Dialogue build bridges. It can be a way of living, but it requires working with oneself, be curious, open minded and interested in developing your self.

Participants learnt from Christiane also about how to conduct dialogue sessions between two conflicted groups (what are the conditions and preparation steps in dialogue process), as well as what are needed personal characteristics and skills of dialogue facilitator. Many participants were interested in learning how to get radical groups engaged in a dialogue, how to dialogue with “radicals” and whether at all it is possible. Christiane answered that it is possible but requires a lot of ground work to be done before the first dialogue meeting takes place as well as choosing a right facilitator from outside of the context. In dialogue with radical groups what is needed is to give them respect as human beings and to be ready to listen to them.

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Day third ended with interfaith panel debate between experts in 3 Abrahamic religions – Islam (represented by Remona Aly from UK, journalist and Campaigns Director at Exploring Islam Foundation), Christianity (represented by Dr. Dagmar Heller from Switzerland, theologian and professor at Ecumenical Institute of Bossey), Judaism (represented by Jerzy Kichler from Poland, leader of Wroclaw’s Jewish Community, former chairman of the Union of Jewish Religious Congregations of Poland). Panel discussion was led by Daniela – EIYN Consultant. The topic of the panel was “How to approach the Other in different religions" and three religious leaders spoke about teachings of their respective faith traditions regarding “the other” and approaching “the other, especially “the religious other” and about religious teachings on “welcoming the other”, in fact present in each religion.

Day four was an excursion day in Wroclaw, with a special emphasis put into visiting “District of Mutual Respect” called also “Quarter of Four Temples, where Christian Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches as well as Jewish Orthodox synagogue are located in close vicinity and leaders as well as members of those four temples meet on regular basis and engage in events of practical dialogue – learning about one another, experiencing each other traditions, being together in mutual tolerance and respect.

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Last day of the seminar was dedicated to sessions showing practical successful examples of dialogue, and Vjekoslaw Saje from Bosnia and Herzegovina led two sessions presenting some good practices regarding conflict resolution, dialogue and reconciliation, with emphasis on Balkans. Vjekoslaw was actively involved in forming of Interreligious Council in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1997, together with CSIS, Religions and Peace and USIP-United States Institute for Peace, and he presented a “case study” at our seminar, about how practical steps of dialogue taken at that time between religious leaders of different faiths in the fragile time of the fresh end of the war, created an opportunity for building Interreligious Council that nowadays serves as a main body in Bosnia and Herzegovina safeguarding interreligious dialogue, freedom of religion and working against decreasing religious prejudices.

Apart from taking part in intense trainings and discussion sessions, seminar participants had also opportunity to participate in workshops led by participants on drumming and photography as well as mingle and get to know each other during evening intercultural programs of sharing songs, dances and food brought from different countries by the participants. Seminar finished, bridges were built, now let those bridges take us to building further bridges for peace, understanding and interfaith practical dialogue and cooperation.

The seminar was sponsored by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.

"We, the youth of different faith groups, are determined to live together in peace and mutual appreciation. We are united in the belief that it is our duty to play a crucial role in overcoming violence and striving for justice. This ideal will only be achieved through interfaith cooperation, which will be facilitated by the establishment of the European Interfaith Youth Network (EIYN)"; Geneva declaration