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Building Bridges: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

The second seminar of the initiative, Building Bridges: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue took place on November 7th, 2021. Orchestrated with the entire coordination team reunited in Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon Portugal, it featured Mr. Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations Secretary-General and Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, as Guest Speakers as well as participation in the plenary of delegates from Iran, Iraq, Serbia, Bosnia, and Kenya.

This seminar was centered around bridge building, a metaphor that translates the ever-growing need for human beings to understand and attempt to look past cultural, historical, and geographical differences in order to cooperate with each other in building a better community, hence the topic "Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue", the main focus of this webinar.

As per usual, participants started entering the virtual room at the sound of the UUN Anthem greeting as they "walked in" a space filled with inspiration and devoid of judgment, as a delegate from Syria stated, in that room, she wasn't a refugee nor did she caught everyone attention. Here, she was just another girl hoping to be inspired and share her opinion on global issues, as a citizen of the world, and not as a refugee.

The UUN Anthem was replaced by the voice of Joana Graça Feliciano, the dear hostess of the program, along with Moses Machipisa, as they greeted the delegates and invited the Guest Speakers to share their real-life experience as they dealt with issues concerning the fragmentation of societies or conflicts that were created due to a lack of perspective.

Her Royal Highness, Princess Rym Ali

Inspirational as ever, Princess Rym Ali certainly took the breath of everyone present away, as she began her speech by agreeing and remembering the speeches of delegates from past seminars and complimenting them on the work they had done to deliver such astounding presentations.

Focusing on the seminar's topics, the princess of Jordan reminded everyone that the bridge-building process happens in several ways and shapes and despite that, it always has as common ground, the Ubuntu philosophy, the willingness to reach out for the other in an understanding and compassionate matter, something she has seen across her voyages as a journalist working for several media outlets, across many countries such as Rwanda, Lebanon, Iraq, and others.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations Secretary-General

The eight United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined the second seminar to share with the changemakers present the 4 principles that guided him during his mandates that were marked by the creation of Sustainable Development Goals, the creation of UN Women, an organization focused on empowering women all over the world and the terrorist attacks of September 11. The principles are:

  1. Setting Priorities;

  2. Never giving up;

  3. Focusing on the people;

  4. Standing up for the most vulnerable

He also aligned with the initiative, stating the importance of youth leadership and that, throughout his mandates he has also undergone efforts to reiterate the importance of a perspective in which each person is not only the citizen of a nation but a global citizen which encompasses tolerance and respect for other cultures and the recognition of the beautiful thing that is diversity.

You are not only the leaders of tomorrow. You are the leaders of today already. Your role is imperative for the realization of economic, political and social rights, for the revival of our planet and promotion of sustainable development.

Delegates intervention

For this seminar, delegates from countries that have been in notorious conflicts were selected and asked to prepare an intervention together in which they shared their mutual history and their views on such, and which steps they could take to ensure that it did not happen again. The interventions were constituted by Iraq and Iran, represented by Yahya Al Bazzazz and Ava Masumi, Serbia and Bosnia represented by Dunja Trifunovic and Resid Dzevdetbegovic, and the two main religions of Kenya, Christianism and Islamism, represented by Queen Liwali and Shamim Ali.

Yahya and Ava shared their personal story of how the conflict between their countries affected them, growing up dislocated from their hometowns due to the danger that they were exposed to there. But that did not impede them from seeing how much the two countries had in common: borders; cultures, norms, and traditions; religion, history, and cuisine, and what steps their nations could take to reconcile and advance forward together:

  • Re-establishing social relations

  • Empowering young leaders with new ideas and methods;

  • Prioritizing the common good for all.

Resid and Dunja focused on the positive impacts of their government's actions in order to build bridges, namely the freedom of movement and the ties fostered with culture as a medium (several initiatives were launched such as Youth Bienalle) and also the signing of mutual agreements that recognize that liberties from one country can be extended to the citizens of the other. Their story and experience allow them to enlighten everyone with the actions needed to extend the perspective of how bridge-building process can happen between countries:

Manifestations, exhibitions, socializing, joint presentations and visits to each other are necessary to achieve a new view of the world. That rampart, once built, will never be able to tear down any political act again.

The historical context of Kenya, as told by the delegates, was a story of the conflict between the two main religions, Catholicism and Islamism that resulted in thousands of victims. Both delegates shared their personal view on the matter, stating that despite whatever religion one person may have, their search for God is deemed of respect and each takes that journey as she pleases. Although very unfortunate, it has led to the reconciliation of the credos and has allowed for non-violence pacts to be signed.

In a short resume, the seminar was paved with a multitude of an inspirational story, personal enlightenment, and sharing of actions necessary to develop the skill of bridge building, where we must be empathic, compassionate and understanding, if we wish to foster a society where collaboration and understanding are its main pillars, which, as princess Rym Ali stated, is an ever-ending process, constantly reinforced by the awareness of wrongdoings and the willingness to strive to a peaceful and just world.

You can watch this seminars interventions here :

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