From Cairo to Lincoln Park: A Global Interfaith Movement

President Obama in Cairo, Egypt

This article was written by Peter Dziedzic, a sophomore at DePaul, who is pursuing a double major in Religious Studies and English. Peter is the co-President of DePaul Interfaith and member of the Executive Committee of the Better Together Campaign at DePaul University.

The words that constantly reverberate through the energy-rattled and ticked corners of my brain, fresh from D.C. and IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institute, come from President Barack Obama’s address at Cairo University, “Faith should bring us together…Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between people can lead to action.”

I can think of no better call to action than the words above, and no better distillation of energy than the experience described below.

The words of our president were embodied in 200 college students and 100 campus staff members from every corner of the nation this past week, when the Interfaith Youth Core hosted two sessions of the inaugural Interfaith Leadership Institute and trained student leaders and campus staff in making interfaith cooperation a priority on hundreds of campuses through the “Better Together” campaign, which is the groundwork and grassroots campaign that, hopefully, will take shape at hundreds of U.S. campuses and make interfaith engagement and social action a pivotal priority.

As a participant in the first session and a part of the delegation from DePaul University, I came to the Institute prepared for a definitive experience. While I have been involved and interested in interfaith engagement for several years, I can firmly say that my experience over the weekend truly opened my eyes to the power and force behind the current movement – the movement for understanding and cooperative action between members of all faiths and intellectual traditions.

Our weekend open with a session at the White House, in which an array of speakers, including John Kelly, the Director for Strategic Partnerships for the Corporation for National and Community Service, Eboo Patel, the Founder and President of the Interfaith Youth Core, and Joshua DuBois, the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, highlighted the need for interfaith cooperation in all sectors of our society. The need for young leaders, leaders promoting understanding and cooperation among religiously diverse individuals, was a forerunning message.

After the Opening Session, we spent the majority of the weekend in small-group training sessions that emphasized the importance and methods for bringing interfaith cooperation to the forefront of campus life around the nation through the “Better Together” campaign. Any time not spent in training was devoted to hearing the range of different voices and backgrounds that this diverse group of students brought to our common experience.

Part of the experience was dedicated to sharing with other students the interfaith work that was already happening at our campuses and the visions we had for our communities through the efforts of the “Better Together” campaign. After listening to dozens of students speak of their vision, I tried to pinpoint the exact nature of this wide-ranging and pulsating energy. I found common agreement with IFYC and other students.

This is a movement.

As a Catholic, sitting in the same room with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Protestants, Humanists, Atheists, and many more from a variety of spiritual backgrounds, I saw that what united us in our differences was our common desire to see social action, irregardless of our backgrounds or traditions, take hold in a society that has not fully embraced the potentiality of cooperation. It was in this spirit and this unity that we spent our weekend together not only as friends and colleagues, but as co-shapers in the movement that will definitively shape our society in the coming decades.

Commendation must be given to the IFYC, who spent countless hours preparing and networking for this event, which, in my opinion and the opinion of many of others in attendance at the Institute, energized us for the work that will carry us not only through the year ahead and our remaining years as students, but through the rest of our lives.

Returning to DePaul, I am ready to begin working on our “Better Together” campaign and enhance interfaith engagement at a university where interfaith cooperation is already promoted and encouraged. The road ahead is long and broad, but it is filled with the possibility of wonder, discovery, cooperation, and above all, the opportunity for us to, as President Obama suggested, turn dialogue into service, and bridges into action. As we have understood over the weekend and will understand as time goes on, we truly are better together.

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