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Catholic and Shinnyo-en Buddhist Youth Plant the Seeds of Peace

On July 22-26, 2010, eight Catholic teens from the Diocese of San Jose and six Shinnyo-en Buddhist teens from the San Francisco Bay area and Chicago, paticipated in an interfaith immersion trip to New Mexico.

I facilitated this trip and worked with Los Niños International to coordinate the volunteer and cultural experiences for our group. This unique trip centered around building peace by helping with organic community farm projects and engaging in and sharing interfaith dialogue and prayer and chanting.

As this was an interfaith trip our first stop in Sante Fe we visited the Upaya Zen Center (http://www.upaya.org/) and were taken on a tour by a Zen priest. After the tour Rocushin, our Zen Priest, guided us in sitting meditation and also led us in a walking meditation. Many of the teens remarked that it was a good way to embark on an interfaith immersion trip!

We worked in two farms in Taos and Sante Fe, New Mexico. One of the farms we worked at in Sante Fe was the Community Farm (http://santafecommunityfarm.org/) . The Community Farm grows vegetables and involves volunteers like us to work the farm and then it donates the produce to needy families in Sante Fe. This was the first time many of the Catholic and Buddhist teens had done any type of farm work, and they enjoyed pulling weeds and harvesting carrots on the farms.

On our way through New Mexico, near Taos, we were greeted by a Navajo woman named Pat McCabe, by the Rio Grande River. She greeted us with a Navajo song and then we walked to the Rio Grande and greeted the river before we ventured to Taos. This was a potent example of peace-building and promotion of respect for the earth. Once we greeted the river and felt welcomed by Pat and absorbed the beauty around us how could we not respect the earth and treat her with respect during our visit? This was certainly more than just a ritual of blessing and welcoming, but it was a way to learn how to prayerfully enter the land with an attitude of respect and reverence.

In addition to farming and harvesting vegetables during the evenings the Catholic and Buddhist teens paired up and discussed questions such as, “Why I am a Buddhist” and “Why am I a Catholic” and time was also provided for each group to ask anything they wanted about the other persons religious tradition.

This is another form of peace building, through dialogue and mutual respect. The goal of these interfaith dialogues was to learn and respect, not to convert. This was a pathway to peace and mutual understanding for the teens. The evening dialogues and the daily volunteer work became such a routine that after awhile many of the Catholic and Buddhist teens remarked that they forgot who was Catholic and who was Buddhist!

The Shinnyo-en Buddhist teens not only shared their views about their religious tradition they also shared their chanting which is the core of their worship services. We all sat in a circle and listened prayerfully to the chants as the Buddhist teens chanted with us.

One of our evening activities was the making of Catholic rosaries. Amy Yamamura and Mark Pinto, a Catholic and Buddhist member purchased a variety of beads and symbols with which the teens could assemble their own rosary beads and later pray with them as well. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this activity and they were able to be creative and make a unique rosary that would be a cool keepsake for them.

After making the rosaries the Catholic and Buddhist teens sat in a circle and were led in the praying of the rosary after the significance of the beads were explained.

Peace-building, especially as part of the Six Billion Paths to Preach project, involved dialogue, faith sharing, prayer and worship, enhanced by performing volunteer work during the day. I believe all these elements help promote a more peaceful world and promoted authentic and mutual understanding among diverse faith traditions.

During this unique interfaith immersion experience, the seeds of peace were planted. Though there are Six Billion Paths to Peace and more, the seeds we planted will blossom through compassionate understanding, mutual respect and environmental care.

How did the teens enjoy the experience? Here are some interviews and you can hear for yourself!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L62LQ0eHvAs


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