June 23, 2016, 6:40 PM
If you still are doubting whether we need interfaith dialogue today, I can assure you that it remains an important tool for peacebuilding and our strongest counter against violence, xenophobia, and terrorism.
As a URI Europe CC Liaison Officer, I had a chance to visit and connect with some colleagues in New York City, Florence from Lalitamba Mandiram CC, and Monica Willard, URI’s UN Representative.
When I returned from my visit to New York City after several meaningful encounters, plenty of Starbucks coffees, nice talks, lunches, walks in the heart of Manhattan and transcontinental flights, I realized that our URI mission to bring ordinary people from different religious together is of a crucial importance in every single part of the Earth. Personally, I feel blessed to be part of a team of visionaries and bridge-builders who want to make a world a better place for all human beings.
We met with Florence at the heart of Manhattan – Central Park and spent about two hours together walking around the lake and talking. It was wonderful to compare our local and regional interfaith work, and share our own faiths, cultures, and traditions. We found out that there are many common challenges in working with people from different faiths in North America and in Europe. Both Lalitamba CC and BRIDGES CC use art as a tool for interfaith dialogue, and we were happy to find a way to collaborate further. Some of the artwork made by Bulgarian students during World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) earlier this year for the interfaith project GIFT of LOVE, presented in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, will be featured in Lalitamba’s upcoming magazine. Such discussions and collaboration would have been difficult to do simply over email, and I thank Sari Heidenreich, URI’s North America Regional Coordinator, for connecting us!
My favorite place in Manhattan is Bryant Park. There, I first met with Monica Willard, which was a very emotional moment, as she is always in our presentations and has been involved with URI work for so many years. Over a cup of coffee, we talked about WIHW history and events, the UN and URI, and how we could improve the collaboration between them in Europe. I shared with her some aspects of URI work in our region and some projects that were initiated during the last months. Monica impressed me with her energy, enthusiasm, and readiness to help and share her wisdom. We agreed that next February (2017) for the WIHW, we will try to collaborate and organize a joint event in Bonn’s UN headquarter.
From Bryant Park, we moved to the historical place Grand Central Station, where we had lunch in a cozy Italian restaurant. During the salad course itself, Monica made some phone calls and fixed two meetings for me in over the next three days with Azza Karam, Senior Advisor for Culture in UNFPA and with Lily Valtchanova, Liaison Officer at UNESCO Office. Based on our discussion, she felt making these connections would be beneficial for URI Europe’s work, and they were indeed.
On my last day, I joined Monica and Deborah Moldow, UN Representative for the World Peace Prayer Society, for a meeting with UNESCO Liaison Officer Lily so we could discuss how URI could become an associate member of UNESCO. Afterwards, we also had an informal coffee with a representative from UNICEF.
These were just a few glimpses of my time in NYC. It is always a joy and blessing when you meet other URI family members and peace-builders from different part of the world!
With love and gratitude,