“To see the other side, to defend another people, not despite your tradition but because of it, is the heart of pluralism.”
So spoke Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) founder Eboo Patel, whose words define the very essence of cultural diversity in today’s globalized world. In 2011, the Obama administration partnered with Patel and the IFYC to form the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. This challenge invites higher education institutions to find ways of promoting interfaith dialogue and community on-campus—a call to which over 250 universities to date have responded, including John Cabot University.
Students who study abroad in Italy know that the Roman Empire was a vast territory which extended to North Africa, West Asia, and the furthest reaches of Europe. The cultural and religious diversity of the Empire is well represented in modern-day Italy. While Roman Catholicism has long been the predominant religion in Rome, the city is also home to Jewish communities whose presence in the Eternal City dates back to Ancient Roman times. Rome is home to a significant number of Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Buddhist communities as well.
Read on to discover how John Cabot’s Interfaith Initiative is helping to encourage a continued tradition of cultural awareness and exchange, both on campus and in the city of Rome.
Promoting Religious Literacy
As increased travel and digital technology continue to ‘shrink’ our world, many students have come to think of themselves as global citizens. Developing an understanding and appreciation for different cultural and religious beliefs is a key feature of this new identity.
Not only does religious literacy make us more open-minded, it also fosters a greater sense of community. The John Cabot Interfaith Initiative draws students of diverse backgrounds together with regular lectures and seminars on topics relating to religion and faith – encouraging awareness while helping undergraduates make new connections.
Past presentations includes “Imams in the West” by Imam Yahya Pallavicini, President of the Italian Islamic Community, and “Faith, Service and Disability” by Marco Veronesi and Sarah Parisio from the L’Arche Communities in Rome.
John Cabot University also hosts a regular Interfaith Coffee Break, where students can gather in a casual atmosphere to discuss religion, faith, and spirituality. These meetings help promote inter-cultural relationships, and act as a forum in which students can organize future events and activities.
Spaces for Prayer and Reflection
Students who study abroad in Rome can find plenty of peaceful retreats in the parks and plazas around the city – but very few undergraduates can claim that their school has its own meditation garden!
In 2013, Interfaith Initiative members made the decision to introduce a new space at JCU devoted to prayer and meditation. With the hard work of students, and generous community donations, the Meditation Garden was born. The Garden is open at all times for John Cabot students, and groups can even book time slots for joint prayer or reflection sessions.
Interfaith Initiatives in Rome
Interfaith initiatives are not unique to John Cabot University—Rome is home to many welcoming groups and institutions whose sole purpose is to help foster religious literacy throughout the city. Religion for Peace, the International Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Education, and the Focolare Movement are all institutes in Rome where students can go to expand their cultural awareness and meet likeminded locals.
Students attending university in Italy who are looking for a place of worship will find that Rome caters to a wide range of faiths and religions. Rome recently opened the largest Buddhist temple in Europe, the Hua Yi Si Temple, designed by and for the Chinese population. Another major house of worship is The Great Synagogue of Rome, a testament to the large historical Jewish community in the city, whose presence extends as far back as the 2nd century B.C.
What would inspire you to join an interfaith initiative?