Bridge Builders: Youth and Interfaith

18 July 2016, 4:02 PM
group photo

Coexister CC and Bridge-Builders CC (a new addition to the URI family) were recently profiled in an article. 

To read the profile in Spanish, click here; to read it in Catalan, click here

For the article in English, read on!

In this world of paradoxes and constant change, global society tends to a certain uniformity, even as communities become increasingly diverse. International efforts to promote interreligious dialogue and build links between belief groups become more necessary as a sense of uniformity and distrust for difference grows.

These links do not seek to immediately resolve differences or dissolve them in a homogeneous framework that does not respect difference, but rather to make them part of a complex and nuanced effort based on shared purpose, equality, and mutual respect.

So much conflict is deemed religiously-motivated, but we have the antidote needed just by being more aware of and in tune with the human condition, which gives us the capacity to regenerate our sense of humanity.

Young people are important agents for change, but must be taken more into account so that they are used for positive progress. In 2009, three women—Maria Eugenia Crespo (Catholic), Marisa Bergman (Jewish), and Nancy Falcon (Muslim)—came together to create the Buenos Aires Bridge Builders. The organization is meant to break through the isolation between communities usually caused by different denominational schools there. The women wanted the young people of those three religions to experience each other’s faiths and work together on common projects. Since its inception, the interfaith school project has grown outside of Argentina as well.  They wanted the young people of three religions come together to develop common projects. That first fifty young school was created and the project has started to export outside Argentina. The 2016 UNESCO Association for Interreligious Dialogue recently launched the project in Barcelona. "The goal is not to compete but to know, share, build, and multiply," said Maria Eugenia Crespo, "The idea is not to misrepresent identities, but to foster understanding and build a bridge on this foundation.”

As Tarroc Alba, coordinator of the project in Barcelona, explained, the project in Barcelona has more sociocultural diversity than in Argentina. The project is made up of more than twenty people between 18 and 30 years old from many religious traditions (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha'i, Zoroastrian, Taoist, atheist, and agnostic). The team hopes that with continuous training, they will not only learn the basics of all religions and how to dismantle stereotypes, but also design projects and put them into practice together. Currently, the students are preparing a play for a fall social for children and are involved with a series of lectures at universities and volunteering with social organizations.

In addition to the Bridge Builders project, Ms. Crespo is also part of the management team of the United Religions Initiative (URI), an international network of grassroots peacebuilding and interfaith initiatives. During her time working with such groups, she says she learned firsthand how young people are critical to dissolving prejudices and conflict and healing trauma.

URI counts 791 community groups in 96 countries, many of which are created and directed by young people, such as the French organization Coexister. Founded in 2009 by Samuel Grzybowski, a 22 year old Catholic entrepreneur, the group has 1,800 members, a dozen local groups and an annual budget of 193,000 euros.

Among their activities in pursuit of social cohesion and promotion of religious diversity, in a country deeply marked by these questions, is one particularly popular and original one. The Interfaith Tour allows members to travel around the world for 10 months to experience various religions and beliefs. The Tour was just introduced for the second time, and they maintain a vibrant website documenting their journey, with videos and interviews to promote religious coexistence and tolerance.