Nadia and Kadija are women from two cities in Northern Italy. You can see their ethnic, religious and cultural differences just by looking at them. Nadia is Italian and Christian and Kadija is Tunisian and Muslim. Their experience of social cohesion began in school and has had unexpected results. Among these was Nadia’s degree dissertation in Political Science about Muslim women, which looked in particular at the question of wearing the veil.
Theirs was only one of the experiences recounted on 25 November in Brescia, where about 1300 Christians and Muslims met for a day with the title Common Pathways for Christian and Muslim Families, organized by the Focolare Movement and various Islamic associations and communities.
It was a development of what had taken place in the little town of Loppiano in October 2010, when 600 Muslims and Christians from all over Italy met for a moment’s reflection upon the common pathways followed by people of different faiths and traditions. The ‘Workshop Brescia 2012’ affirmed that the journey to universal fraternity among people of different religions, promoted by Chiara Lubich a decade ago, has taken a decisive step ahead. Indeed, it seems that there are already many experiences of fostering social cohesion and preparing the next generation for dialogue. During a round table discussion, which included two Imams, Kamel Layachi from Treviso and Youssef Sbai from Massa, there was talk about the daily problems that families of both traditions have to face.
Maria Voce, in France for a Social Studies Event, was present through a message where she promised her prayers to ‘God the almighty and merciful’ that he would bless ‘these “common pathways” so that they may reveal the huge contributions that communities of believers … can give to the fabric of society wherever they may be.’ She went on to say that ‘that they are like first shoots generating a sense of family and creating harmonious relations among people, which respect their rights and duties, beyond any cultural and religious differences.’
It was an event that also saw moments of meditation upon the value of the family according to Muslim and Christian tradition. Real experiences of everyday life from where people lived were told and there were also moments of artistic beauty. One of the most moving of these was led by Harif Abdelghani from Morocco. He sang a folk song and all joined in with him. And then the hall was filled with a party atmosphere as 130 children and young people presented dances and songs they had learned in the morning. There were also moments of intense community prayer, held separately by Christians and Muslims. They spoke, furthermore, about some problems relating to immigration, bearing in mind both, on the one hand, those who face the trauma of travel, the worry about finding somewhere to live, a resident’s permit, work, of having to learn a new language, and often suffering discrimination, fear, doubt, suspicion and, on the other hand, those who see people arriving who have new ways of talking, dressing, eating, behaving, and who must face up to the arrival of an unknown culture.
They also considered issues ‘in the light of God’. God’s presence in the lives of individuals and families can truly change things. This goes for personal relations within the family group as well as for those with the world outside, one’s neighbours, work colleagues and companions at school or college. Above all, God’s presence can lead to important shared choices: ‘We are leaving here,’ Imam Layachi said at the conclusion, ‘with the promise that Christians and Muslims can act together in front of God: to be servants of the common good in our neighbourhoods, our cites and our countries.’
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