Participant, Interfaith Encounters Alternative Break
University of Maryland, May 2010
"Creating a Culture of Peace"
“I joined Interfaith Encounters as a part of an Alternative Break Program offered by the University of Maryland. My intention of joining this trip was to expand my knowledge about other religions because although I have been brought up in a very diverse and multi-religious society, my knowledge of faith traditions aside from my own was limited to what I was taught in school. During this trip, however, not only did I develop a deep understanding of six different religious worlds as I had hoped, but I also grew to appreciate the differences as well as the common spiritual foundation among those religions in addition to my own. Differences in our religions and practices are important and valuable as they give us a sense of identity, but they should not be barriers to our common work of transforming the world into a more just, compassionate place.
“While our enlightening and rousing interfaith encounters progressed throughout the week, our service with Philadelphia Green at New Jerusalem Now (NJN) recovery community introduced us to Sister Margaret McKenna, who is a founding member of NJN. I was inspired by Sister Margaret’s story and her commitment to improving the lives of those who were addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and had nowhere else to turn. While helping NJN build planting beds and planted herbs, I, along with other trip participants, also listened to personal stories of some of the recovering drug addicts. It was amazing to listen to how, in the process of recovering from their addiction, these men and women transformed into strong individuals who valued life and took the initiative to make their neighborhood a better place to live. The people of this community were of different faiths, yet they lived in peace like a big, happy family and welcomed anyone who knocks on their door. It was in this community where I realized that learning about diverse religions is not the end in itself—at least not for me. When you are in a multi-religious community, stimulating an interfaith dialogue that expresses mutual respect and understanding is crucial in building solidarity.
“After this trip, I have realized that all religions share a common ground for peace, service, compassion and love. It is for and because of this common ground that I have begun to value religious pluralism as a step beyond religious tolerance. Though tolerance is a necessary step towards pluralism, it is not the end in itself given a world of religious differences; ‘tolerance’ by itself still leaves room for judgments, stereotypes, and divisions.
“Seeing Rev. Nicole, Sister Maria, Abby, Margie and Danielle from the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia working towards cultivating and sustaining social unity through interfaith education, I am inspired to follow in their steps. I hope that I can take what I have learned from this trip and apply it to those communities of which I am and will be a part. I further hope to join those I met from the Interfaith Center and New Jerusalem Now in their efforts of creating a culture of peace.”