Respecting Differences, Deepening Faith
Team Building for the Interfaith Immersion trip participants!
Each summer, the Foundation’s grant to Working Partnerships USA supports the Teen Interfaith Leadership Council of Santa Clara County on an interfaith immersion trip to Sante Fe, Albuquerque and Taos, New Mexico. Service-oriented Shinnyo-en youth from across the country are also invited to experience this trip in hopes that their self-awareness, understanding of different religions and new friendships will be nurtured. This year, nine vibrant teens of Jewish, Hindu, Catholic, Zoroastrian and Shinnyo Buddhist backgrounds joined trip organizers, Deacon Steve Herrera and Diane Fisher, and a Shinnyo-en Youth Association leader from Los Angeles, Michelle Lagrimas, on this learning opportunity. Over the course of a week in July, they explored various cultures and religious communities in New Mexico, engaged in interfaith dialogue, and lent their hands to farming communities.
Chabad Jewish Center, Rabbi Levertov show the Torah
Highlights on the trip included visits to various sacred sites, such as the Chabad Jewish Center, the Roman Catholic Church, Chimayo Santuaria, and a Tibetan Buddhist Center. One of the teens reflected on these visits and said, “As we went along visiting different centers of religious practice, an interesting theme showed up. Each faith was devoted to the good of others, the good of the world, and improving the self. These themes were present in beliefs from Catholicism to Sikhism to Taoism. They facilitate us in uniting and promoting peace around the world. Of course, there were also differences in each of our religions. I do believe, however, that the differences make us a bit unique and help us strengthen our beliefs in our respective faiths.” The teens also stepped up to serve food at Neem Karoli Baba Ashram, volunteer in the corn fields and paint murals at El Portal. In the five short days that they had to accomplish and see all of the above, there was time for fun as well! Everyone cooled off in the summer heat on a hike to Nambe Falls, they learned the way of the warrior at Sikh Gurdwara and viewed the Rio Grande Gorge amidst stormy skies.
Magalie and her mural creation
Magalie Chenet-Smith, a Shinnyo-en youth on the trip, graciously shared her thoughts on her time in New Mexico. It encompasses what the Foundation hopes youth will take away from a trip like this and we look forward to providing more youth with this opportunity in the future. Below is the reflection that Magalie wrote after returning home to Washington D.C.
“Looking back on the Shinnyo-en interfaith trip to New Mexico, I find that it was truly a moving experience. During the trip, each participant had a deep belief that they held on to in order to guide them through the experience. However, I found that all of these beliefs became integrated with one another as we all shared our ways of life with each other. I believe that this was one of the ultimate goals: to truly be able to understand where so many people of different religions come from and how they develop the world towards peace through their religions. It was very important to me to find out that it is very much possible to establish an interfaith dialogue with many other teens that respect one another and are welcome to learning about other people’s ways of life. In a certain way, it personally restored my belief in there being many good people in the world who will work to make a difference and guide the world towards peace at a time when the world faces so many crises. What I found to be truly marvelous was the idea that even though we all were participating in learning about so many religions throughout each day, every night all of us students would come together, on our own, and continue to talk about religions with one another. In that respect I think that we all naturally achieved a very permanent peace and a more well rounded religious perspective. In these distinct lovely moments late at night in the mountains of New Mexico, we all began to understand that there can be harmony and integration of all kinds of thoughts and viewpoints to help us grow and guide each other towards a diplomatic and serene future.
Another incredibly interesting part of the trip to me was the very exquisite fact that I found commonalities between all of the people of different religious backgrounds that we talked to. The farmers, the Rabbi, the Sikhs, the Daoist, the Tibetan Buddhists and all of the other places of worship we visited consistently shared common ideas and often said the exact same words to us. I always understood that different religions share common beliefs but it was really on a deeper spiritual level they were really all the same and it was fascinating to be able to observe that. I found that the very natural environment of the mountains, the forests, the clean air and the gorgeous stars helped me to feel the earth and heightened my Shinnyo prayer for humanity. The experience was truly wonderful in both helping me to understand the reasons for my beliefs and learn about the many joyous ways to manifest and spread peace with many people.”
The teens and their fearless leaders on top the canyon!
For more information on being a part of Teen Interfaith Leadership Council of Santa Clara County, please contact Deacon Steve Herrera at email@example.com, and check out an article written by another youth participant that appeared in the Valley Catholic. If you are a Shinnyo-en Youth interested in this opportunity, please contact your temple’s Youth Association leader for more information about the program and application process.