Three female students discuss the Document on Human Fraternity during breakout sessions


Student Conference on Building Interreligious Solidarity Engages the Next Generation of Global Citizens

By: Siobhan Cooney

November 8, 2022

Driven by an imperative to unite people across religious, national, racial, and political lines, Georgetown University, the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, and the Muslim Council of Elders co-hosted a one-day student conference centered on giving a voice to the next generation of global citizens.

On September 19 undergraduate and graduate students gathered from 11 universities across the Washington, DC, area, representing 17 nations as well as diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.

Inspired by the content and legacy of the Document on Human Fraternity, co-signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi in 2019, participants addressed how to engage difference and build a culture of encounter within university communities.

“We want to take up the challenge of sharing the message of the document critically, to make that message of human fraternity the object of debate and conversation, especially among young people,” said Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and vice president for global engagement at Georgetown University.

Cultivating a Culture of Human Fraternity

Hosting the event on Georgetown’s campus also conveyed significance and intention, as universities are, “by identity and in aspiration, places for the free exchange of ideas in the spirit of mutual recognition and respect,” said Banchoff.

The opening plenary discussion, moderated by Berkley Center Senior Fellow Katherine Marshall, brought Monsignor Séamus Horgan (speaking on behalf of Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, who was unable to attend), Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam, and Professor Mohamed Hussein Mahrasawi in conversation to discuss key themes of the Document on Human Fraternity.

Delivering the cardinal’s prepared remarks, Monsignor Horgan shared that interfaith dialogue is a critical component of the culture of encounter, which first starts with possessing a good knowledge of one’s own religion and then demonstrating an open mind towards the faiths of others. Fraternity and fellowship are at the core of interreligious solidarity, “for religion is not just an idea, but a face and a name” that demands active engagement, said Cardinal Ayuso.

“It is not a map, but rather a day-to-day commitment of working together for the common good, helping all believers and people of good will to heal our wounded world.”

While all three plenary panelists noted that conflict has damaged societies across the globe, they likewise agreed that violence cannot become our common feature. Instead, we must conquer indifference with friendship, which Judge Abdelsalam described as “the most important thing that a person can achieve in his life.”

Since its signing, the Document on Human Fraternity has demonstrated an ability to overcome hate speech and defamation, but the results do not stop at mere words. “You cannot just read the document, you have to actualize it,” said Abdelsalam.

Translating Words into Actions

Marshall and audience members posed broad-reaching, visionary questions about what concrete steps can bring the principles of the document into practice, publicly and pedagogically.

Education is a critical catalyst for advancing peace, as intellectual encounters help build bridges and networks across cultures and faiths. Reflecting on her experience at the conference surrounded by a diverse gathering of peers, Kate Reeves (SFS’23) highlighted changes in her personal understanding of interreligious solidarity. “Simply ‘respecting’ other religions does not build a campus culture that truly celebrates religious diversity. At the conference, it was clear that in order to truly cultivate interreligious solidarity, we must have a culture of curiosity,” she says.

Such values produce an inherent ripple effect that facilitates the development of a local-to-global mindset. Students are active agents perfectly positioned to enact this kind of change. As panelist Mohamed Mahrasawi said during the plenary,

“The document should be not just ink on paper, but actions on campus.”

Developing Campus Solidarity and Inclusivity Solutions

Ryann Craig, director of student programs and assistant research professor at the Berkley Center, called for student attendees to use the Document on Human Fraternity as a compass for conversation, “respecting all spiritual positions at the table with a spirit of curiosity and courage to ask questions and listen well.” This set the tone for the second portion of the conference, in which small groups of students worked together to diagnose obstacles to inclusive campus communities and develop concrete proposals for change.

Domenic DeSantes (C’23), one of the student leaders, facilitated breakout discussions targeting potential solutions to interreligious solidarity concerns in the context of campus ministries. DeSantes shared how these conversations revealed that interreligious engagements are not limited to formal worship services.

“Interreligious solidarity can pierce bubbles of student religious circles across campus life. I was energized by my group’s ideas regarding worship open houses, interfaith student liaisons, and interfaith student buddies, and I, along with my Georgetown peers who were in attendance at the conference, hope to implement these programs this year if possible.”

In the months to come, the organizers will announce further programs that extend and deepen global student dialogue around the Document on Human Fraternity.

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