August 2014, a group of young people – Christians, Muslims, Jews and those of no faith – came together in the beautiful surroundings of Ammerdown, Somerset. It was ‘Our City, Our World,” – a summer school sponsored by the EU’s Youth in Action Programme.
FODIP’s partner for the summer school was Coexister, a grassroots interfaith organisation with youth-led chapters all over France. “It was the link with Coexister that made this summer school unique,” commented Josh Cass, our new director at FODIP.
The thirteen participants came from both Britain and France. They were keen to discuss how their different societies – and how global events such as those in the Middle East – impacted upon their different lives. Some of the young people present were those interested in setting up Coexister chapters in cities such as Toulouse, Lyons and Orleons. All were interested in reframing the issue of “laïcité” – secularism.
Participants discussed the lack of political engagement amongst young people and the negative impact that had. They acknowledged that barriers to dialogue are very real and difficult to overcome. Hard work must be done to build trust and create opportunities for dialogue – especially at the current time, when events in the Middle East are making emotions and tensions run high.
During the week, participants developed their own interfaith facilitation skills, learning about how to encourage dialogue on sensitive issues specifically. Many participants found discussion with others was a way to enrich their own faith. Halima Berrima, from Coexister, commented that “L’échange avec d’autres participants, de différentes confessions, m’a permis étrangement d’en apprendre plus sur mon identité religieuse, d’avoir l’esprit plus clair sur ce qui nous reliait et nous faisait diverger.”1
Participants were also challenged more generally to reflect on the difficulties and sensitivities of interfaith work, and many left with a drive to pursue the issues further. “I truly enjoyed meeting new people from various religions,” said Grégoire Blondé, from Coexister, “as an atheist, it opened my views even more, and pushed me to invest myself into interfaith work this year.”
FODIP was thrilled to partner with Coexister on this summer school, and impressed by the dedication and energy of all participants. We hope to remain in contact and work together again in the future!
- Tranlsation: “The exchange with other participants from different faiths, allowed me strangely to learn more about my religious identity – to have a clearer idea on what connected us and what made us diverge.”