Here is a report of the weekend.
Christians and Muslims in call for dialogue at Focolare youth weekend in Welwyn Garden City
A group of 80 Christian and Muslim young people called for dialogue as a means to grow in mutual understanding and build bridges among people from different cultures and faith backgrounds, as they met for an event entitled “Multiculturalism – Interfaith – Dialogue: #DoYouCare?” at the Focolare Centre for Unity in Welwyn Garden City last weekend.
The participants travelled from across the UK to take part in the event which enabled practical experience of engaging in dialogue with people of different faith backgrounds, The weekend built on the relationship which young people involved with the Focolare Movement in London have established with their peers in the Islamic Unity Society. In the last year they have taken part in joint study sessions as well as practical initiatives such as tree planting in Hertfordshire.
In introducing the weekend, one of the presenters quoted from Pope Francis’ book, ‘Heaven and Earth’ which he had 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. Dialoguing 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 group heard from presenter and documentary producer Angela Graham, who has worked with BBC Wales, Channel 4 and ITV among others. She spoke to them of her own experience as a young person growing up in Northern Ireland, encouraging them to be people of dialogue in their own environment and seek to build bridges with people of other faiths and from different cultures.
Participants also heard from Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali, resident Imam and director of Islamic Centre of England, who spoke in a conference call from Paris. He encouraged the group to "create opportunities of dialogue with everyone…dialogue is what makes us human beings: accepting to dialogue with somebody different from us does not diminish us, but makes us more true to ourselves".
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.
Lucia De Santis, 22, a student involved with Focolare through the group Youth for a United World, said: “'it 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'
"I'm very happy to be here”, said 26 year old Mohammed Mozaffari, a member of Islamic Unity Society from London. “I'm personally interested in interfaith dialogue and was eager to get to know Focolare. Since coming, 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.”