Dr. Orsolic, originally from Bosnia, studied Franciscan Theology in Austria, a theology well-known for its openness to others. In response to the tragic conflict in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, which resulted in more than 400,000 people being killed or injured, he returned to a 'paralyzed and traumatized society'. His Doctoral presentation describes a number of moving examples where people have come together in an attempt to heal the wounds, in a 'land of broken bridges'.
One of these is 'Pontanima', derived from pons meaning bridge, and anima meaning soul. A remarkable Catholic Franciscan monk, Father Ivo Markovic, created a multi-faith choir to begin to unite people through the universal power of music. With not enough Catholics to form a choir, Father Ivo invited members of other faiths to join, and Pontanima was born.
Growing from 12 to 60 members, the choir has performed more than 350 times, all over the world including at the UN Headquarters, and progressed from Catholic to Orthodox to Jewish, Islamic and African styles. Meeting many challenges, such as singing songs of 'the enemy', it has allowed so many friendships to be made, relationships to be rebuilt, and the beginnings of the re-humanization of an entire people.
Mr. Mousalli began his interfaith journey in Buenos Aires, aged just 16, where a Jewish rabbi started interfaith dialogue and a 'new way of communication' during the dark days of the military junta. He moved to Israel when he was 19 years old, and described the variety of 94 known interfaith groups there, ranging from musical to medical. He shared his own story ..."one story, not representative, but filled with happiness and sadness, hope and frustration".
He began to bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians, both publicly and in secret, primarily to learn how to listen to each other, and not knowing where it would lead. He discovered that "there are no borders to human suffering". In a society where there is constant conflict between our values and politics, he strove to isolate the listening and learning process from that paradigm.
It became a group cognitive process, but with a non-academic, emotional approach where people genuinely learn together. He found that the real 'enemy' in the Arab-Israeli conflict is "our inability to release our thoughts in an empathetic setting and environment, in such a way as to bring healing, compassion, and to grow together with 'the other' ". He summarized empathy as:
- Firstly - understanding that the other person has feelings and emotions.
- Secondly - feeling what they feel.
- Thirdly - wanting to improve their lives and situations.
He concluded with the wonderful term, 'Moral Imagination', as a creative driving force in all that he has tried to do.
Dr. Kruja gave an excellent, historical panorama of the peaceful coexistence of religions, particularly Islam, Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, since the Islamization of Albania many hundreds of years ago. Christian monks lived peacefully among Muslims in the 16th Century, Muslims helped Christians to both build, and re-build, churches and cathedrals at various times, and in 1920 a Christian priest represented Albania, a majority-Muslim country, at the League of Nations following World War I.
During World War II, several hundred Muslims were able to save the lives of 100% of the Jewish population in Albania. Despite the country coming under communist rule for many years after WW II, in 1993 and 2014, both Catholics and Muslims greeted Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, respectively, when they visited the Albanian nation.
Patricia Earle, having worked for the past 27 years in peace and interfaith activities in the city of Birmingham, described the origins of her Women's Peace Group in the early 1990's, at the time of the Bosnian War, when WFWP organized a 40-day chain of prayer across European nations. Beginning with a small number of Christian women, in recent years more than 100 women have been meeting on a regular basis, consisting of 1/3 Christian, 1/3 Muslim and 1/3 other faiths. At each meeting, someone shares about an issue of common concern, and there is always a practical outcome, whether money raised to support the work of the speaker, or women volunteering their time to support a particular cause. The largest project has been the building and maintaining of an Interfaith Children's Home in India.
However, the main impetus for practical action comes from the time of prayer during each meeting, and the common experience of the Divine, which is love, and has no name. The meetings also allow friendships to be formed, fear removed, stereotypes changed and barriers broken down, creating a safe space for women to share their heart and feelings, all of which helps to create the motivation to put interfaith into action.