Comments and reflections on the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, September 20-23, 2016, Washington, D.C. Campus Challenge
The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge met with a grand success as it brought together around 600 Presidents and Directors of various universities, colleges, interfaith dialogue centers and some students from all over America. There were 60 international scholars from 31 countries who were invited for international conference and share their experiences of peace building, interfaith dialogue and their vision how to spread vision of much needed dialogue among religions. The writer of this report (Fr James Channan OP, Director Peace Center Lahore, Pakistan) was invited from Pakistan. This global event was organized with the very dedicated team of Georgetown University and Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. This conference began on 20th of September and ended on 23rd of September. Main venue of the conference was Georgetown and Gallaudet Universities. The program also included guided visit to the White House.
Here are my comments and reflections on this global event.
1. Sensing the grave need of interfaith cooperation and serious issues of racism and Islamophobia which had which had arisen especially after the tragic incident of 9/11 President Barack Hussain Obama emphasized interfaith cooperation and community service – interfaith service”. He took the initiative to build bridges and positive understanding among different faith communities. The US Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighbourhood Partnership works with the White House and the Cooperation for National and Community Service to lead the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. At the initiative and invitation from President Obama now there are over 600 institutions of higher educations who have committed themselves to interfaith and community service challenge.
2. The signs of Islamophobia has become evident in USA and as a result Muslims felt insecure and threatened and program is to message of acceptance of religions and in particular to Muslim community as they are a significant minority in the United States. It was also expressed by some Muslim speakers.One example of a Muslim lady was given as she had written a personal letter to President Obama that she is experiencinghumiliation and discrimination, firstly because she is a black and secondly she is a Muslim.President Obama invited her and expressed his deep concern for her and consoled her.
3. This initiative which started 6 years ago after a consultation was done by a committee on how to bring about more harmony among people of different faith communities. Melissa Rogers was Chairperson of this committee. Now she is serving as Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighbourhood Partnership. She welcomed all the delegates and extended message from the President of USA. She admired the great success of this event.
4. It was in 2015 that President’s Interfaith and Community Campus Challenge decided to make this initiative from national to global. Thus Present Obama personally invited 35 scholars from 26 countries. These scholars are known for their significant role in promoting interfaith dialogue. Fr James Channan OP a Dominican from Pakistan and Director of Peace Center Lahore was invited for this international conference in 2015 and he was also invited this year to participate in this international gathering and share his experience on interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding.
5. I am deeply moved to see such significant and positive respone from 600 universities and institutions of higher education and learning. It is because the future of the nation lies in the hands of young students as they will be taking care of their country by fulfilling so many leadership responsibilities. Therefore, it is of prime importance that young generation must be trained to live in harmony with the believers of various religions and develop deep respect for them, avoid looking down upon them and discriminating them on account of their religions. The must be trained to respect diversity and focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.
6. Besides Muslims who were projected being made target because of Islamophobia there was a talk about Jewish community as well who also face problems on account of their religious affiliation. Ira Forman, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti Semitism present very rich input on this issue and how to overcome it. He also mentioned curial and ongoing issue of Muslims and Jews in the Palestine.
7. Ms. Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff, Office of the First Lady, White House, Chief Advisor to First Lady Michelle Obama gave armchair was interviewed by Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Director, Peace corps. Ms. Tina emphasised the need to educate girls and how the initiate of the First Lady is being carried on in 35 countries as thousands of girls are being educated. She also mentioned Mala Yousafzai and her passion to educate girls. She remarked that Taliban and Boko Haram do not want to educate their girls for they are do not want their countries to progress.
8. There were several workshops on different topics related to interfaith dialogue and collaboration and learning. Several scholars of different countries took part in panel discussions and in these small group discussion.
9. The imperative role of media in interfaith peace-building was also surfaced. It was lamented in one group discussion that media both electronic and print is not playing sufficient role as it does not give much coverage to faith related events. Very often media gives coverage to tragedies and extremist and radicals attacks.
10. I realized that America is going through several ethnic, religious and social issue and these need to be addressed very affectively.
11. There was a great emphasis on national unity and solidarity for the progress and prosperity of the country.
12. A presentation was also made on King Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz Dialogue Center (KAICIID) by Patrice Patrice Brodeur, Senior Advisor of this center. This KAICIID Dialogue Center has organized international conference in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Madrid, Spain, Vienna, Austria and New York United States. Dr. Patrice emphasized the interreligious dialogue and inter cultural dialogue as well. He also admired of Pope Francis he was meeting with leaders of different religions in Assisi, Italy.
13. The grave problem of refugees and how to prevent violence in youth were also discussed. It was reported that USA plans to accommodate 80,000 refugees in the current year and 110,000 in the coming year.
14. There were a couple of Christian priests and pastors, Muslim Imams, Jewish rabbis and Buddhist monks. The Imam of Georgetown, Mr. Omer shared his experience and gave a video presentation of the work he is doing with the religious leaders of 3 monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
15. There were 3 representatives from Pakistan, Dr. Amineh Hoti and Ali Tariq from Islamabad and Fr James Channan OP from Lahore. Each one of them made a couple of interventions during the entire conference.
16. How nice it would be if Presidents, Prime Ministers and Kings of various countries also adopt this model and take up such kind of initiative and promote interfaith learning in their universities, colleges, center and places of learning. If such interfaith courses are taught in the places of learning these can bring significant positive change in the minds of adults and they will respect all persons of their faiths. There will no prejudices. And our world will become much safe and lives of millions will be saved who confront prejudice and humiliation on account of their faith. This will also help to solve the problems of religious minorities such as of Christians in several countries.
17. President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge has set a good example for rest of the world for interfaith learning at national level. And make universities and colleges beacon of light for interfaith cooperation and thus destroy walls which divide us an build bridges which unite us.
Reported by: fr James Channan OP, Peace Center, Lahore Pakistan