Forming the Next Generation of Interfaith Activists

Participants at the Interfaith Encounters Inter-School Program. Photo: Catholic Mission

Participants at the Interfaith Encounters inter-school program. Photo: Catholic Mission

I have participated in interreligious dialogue, especially Christian-Muslim relations, for many years, in Pakistan and in Australia. I have visited gurdwaras, mosques, synagogues and temples. I have attended, participated in, and co-hosted interfaith conferences and events. I have given talks, workshops, and seminars on interreligious dialogue to various groups – parish, clergy, youth, and others. I have taught tertiary level courses in interreligious dialogue at theological institutes, sharing the astonishing and far-reaching developments in Catholic teaching about other faiths in the past 60 years.

In all this interfaith work, it is apparent that the teaching and practice of interreligious relations must be handed on to the next generation. They are the ones who will embed it in society, and they are the ones who will carry it into the future. That is why I am always happy to assist those who work with school children, teachers and catechists, who then pass on the teaching in the classroom.

In the last few years, Catholic Mission consulted me about an interfaith program for schools. I was delighted to help them by providing an overall context. They then developed “Interfaith Encounters”, a series of facilitated exchanges between Catholic and Muslim schools. From my long years of engaging across various communities, I was able to introduce them to staff from several Muslim schools.

Then the staff of Catholic Mission and the teachers from the schools together carried out the program. The students visited each other’s schools. Together, they visited a mosque and a church and explained their respective faiths to each other. They discovered commonalities. They built connections. They came to know each other. These interfaith encounters dispelled ignorance, prejudices and stereotypes. These students are now empowered to be ambassadors for interfaith in their school and future careers and lives.

Together for Humanity is another national organisation that has been promoting intercultural and interfaith relations in schools for many years, including the indigenous Aboriginal peoples of Australia. They have teams who go into schools and facilitate exchanges between the students to raise awareness about cultural and religious stereotyping. They provide courses and resources that promote better mutual understanding and respect. I have participated in their training and development days. Occasionally, I participate in one of their school programs, especially when they want a rabbi, a priest and an imam! I am always delighted to accept and to contribute.

Passing on the skills and passion for interreligious dialogue is one of the best investments in the future of Australia. I consider it my privilege and responsibility to contribute. I look forward to the time when today’s school children will be tomorrow’s adult promoters of better mutual understanding and cooperation between believers from different religions in our multi-cultural, multi-religious society.

Rev Dr Patrick McInerney, Director, Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations.

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