A mission to bring people together

On World Mission Sunday, Mass donations are collected to support churches, hospitals, schools and vocations in countries where the Church is new, young or poor. However, as Christians we also need to be prepared to welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and to listen to the call to mission.

To that end, Pope Francis tells us that no one should be excluded and that the Kingdom of God is to be built together. By reminding us of the importance of being inclusive, Pope Francis acknowledges that the journey comes with a great challenge, but mainly with an immense opportunity for the cultural and spiritual growth of everyone.

“If we want to cooperate with our heavenly Father in building the future, let us do so together with our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees. Let us build the future today! For the future begins today and it begins with each of us,” Pope Francis says.

To respond to this challenge, Catholic Mission launched the Interfaith Encounters program in 2020, bringing senior students from diverse faith backgrounds together, to learn from each other and celebrate their differences and discover similarities.

Interfaith dialogue is a key area of mission and an important way to gain a better understanding of our own values, beliefs and attitudes.

The program included more than 150 students from eight secondary schools this year. Each school participated in workshops, shared meals, and visited different places of worship to gain a deeper understanding. Through sharing their lived experience, students went beyond textbook learning and connected with one another.

For many students, this experience has been transformative in having a long-lasting impact on their vision of the world and leading to the promotion of peace and social cohesion within their communities.

“The first time students met they were shy and unsure about one another. Through the activities, games and meals we shared they have formed friendships with one another and many students have made very close friendships,” says Catherine Towiro, the Interfaith Encounters Program Coordinator at Catholic Mission.

The aims of the program are to open students to a wider range of religious, spiritual and ideological worldviews, and to better understand the diversity of experience and culture. It positively encourages them to deconstruct misunderstandings and lead them further in engaging within one another.

“The Interfaith Encounters program was, for me, probably one of the most life-changing programs I ever participated in … It really opened up my mind,” said a student from Gilroy Catholic College, Sydney.

And this comment from a pupil at Sydney’s Australian Islamic College, “Everyone looked further than just religion. We all discussed similarities that we share, outside of religion, on the random tables we were placed in. I’m sure many of us realised that there is more to life than just being stuck on the differences.”

This program is aligned with the message of Pope Francis, focused on inclusion and working toward building a future together. Catholic Mission is looking forward to expanding the program and reaching more students in the coming years.

For more details contact Astrid Delayre, Catholic Mission Communications Officer at: media@catholicmission.org.au

Or go to the Catholic Mission website: www.catholicmission.org.au/interfaith

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