I was privileged to attend a unique interreligious conference sponsored by the Focolare Movement in Italy a few weeks ago with my wife Amy, and with other Jews, Christians and Muslims from Israel who are active in interreligious and intercultural dialogue, education and action in our country. The conference brought together Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs from around the world.
It was an amazing gathering in a beautiful village one hour from Rome, Castel Gandolfo, the town that houses the summer residence of the Pope. The spring air was clear and crisp, the nearby lake was like a mirror in the mornings and the gentle breeze was cooling and refreshing.
The theme of the conference, "Together, Towards the Unity of the Human Family," represented the central teachings of the charismatic leader of the Focolare Movement, Chiara Lubich, who passed away six years ago. This unique Catholic movement, which was initiated by this wonderful woman in the 1940s in the midst of World War II, now has representatives in countries around the world, including Israel. I have been active with this movement in Israel and internationally, and have always found them to be genuine dialogue partners, and serious activists for making our world more human, compassionate and loving.
While respecting each person's individuality, and each religion's particularity, all the speakers at the conference -- Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs -- stressed our common humanity and our common universal values. Why is this so important now, at this present moment in history?
The answer is that this is all too often forgotten in a world which strives to be global but is still involved in so many nationalistic/religious/ethnic conflicts which are blasphemously violent in the name of God. In the midst of ongoing violent conflicts, like the one between Israel and Palestine, empathy for the humanity and suffering of the other side is all too often abandoned, and people tend to tell only their own narrative and ignore the casualties on "the other side."
In my remarks at the conference, I quoted a speech that the Focolare leader Chiara Lubich gave in 1998 in Argentina, when she was addressing the Jewish community:
I have dreamt of our being able to live these truths together and offering through our profound communion, through our working together, fresh hope to the world.
From my perspective, three points that the Focolare leader made in this speech remain critical for us, to this day.
The first is that dialogue is about life, especially about how we live together in the real world, wherever we live, in communities and countries all over the planet.
Secondly, dialogue is not enough! We have to work cooperatively together! We have to take action to heal our world; we need to be engaged in tikkun olam together, to repair our fractured world, to fight injustice wherever we see it, together, not separately.
Thirdly, we have a religious obligation to keep hope alive. People all over the world live in despair and depression. We need to counter this with optimism and hope. We must see the cup as half full, not half empty. We can see the possibilities and benefits of peace. Therefore we need to "seek peace and pursue it"! We must be active, not passive!
In my work during the past 23 years in interreligious dialogue and education in Israel through the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel -- which also serves as the Israel branch of Religions for Peace -- I have stressed that we need to move from dialogue to action. Talk is not enough. This is why we continue to engage in creative and innovative programs which seek to change the hearts and minds of the people in Jewish and Palestinian communities throughout Israel to understand the benefits of peace and work towards peaceful coexistence.