The objectives of the courses have included initiating dialogue among young people representing a variety of ethnic and religious communities, shattering ancient and deeply embedded caricatures of different religious traditions, developing mutual respect and trust among religious communities, and discovering new forms of cooperation, coexistence, tolerance, and understanding. Another goal of the seminar has been to develop a network of concerned religious leaders and scholars who will continue to engage in dialogue, exchange ideas, and become agents of reconciliation within their respective societies. The July 1997 seminar will focus on the religious dimensions of human rights, conflict resolution, and the critical role that churches can play as models for national ethnic reconciliation.
In 1996 there were more than 170 applicants for 80 places in the seminar. Among those accepted were university professors, doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows, social-science researchers, journalists, government officials (Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and social workers, as well as clergy, religious leaders, and theological students. Participants came from Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. On the one hand, 1996 participants agreed that the churches had tremendous potential and opportunities to be peacemakers and agents of reconciliation within their respective societies. On the other hand, they were also conscious of the fact that there remained a pressing, indeed compelling, need for authentic and continuing dialogue whereby they could overcome their misunderstandings and prejudices, respect one another as equals, discover the common assumptions which they share, and be fully supportive of one another in their respective ministries. This would involve their recognition of the full meaning of human rights in a culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse society, including the sacred right of religious freedom.
Besides giving lectures and participating in panels and discussions on the peacemaking theme, participants worked together to provide food and school supplies to more than fifty of the neediest families in Mangalia, most of whom were from the Roma (Gypsy) community living in deplorable conditions. Religious traditions represented in one or more of the seminars since 1994 have included Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Greek-Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim, Old Believer, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed, and Roman Catholic.
A manifesto produced in the 1996 seminar closed with these words:
We call upon all of our communities to respond to this urgent challenge by clearly and unmistakably demonstrating their love for God and neighbor, by being reconciled with one another, by respecting one another, and by working together in this new era with all of its perils and opportunities.
|Dr. Earl A. Pope
Department of Religion, Lafayette College
Easton, PA 18042
Tel: 610-258-2249; fax: 610-252-0370
|Dr. Thomas H. Yorty
College Hill Presbyterian Church
Easton, PA 18042
Tel: 610-253-4792; fax: 610-253-5240
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© 1997 Institute for East-West Christian Studies