Contributed by Deacon Steve Herrera, the Diocese of San Jose
Diane Fisher of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley and Deacon Steve Herrera from the Diocese of San Jose, both Co-directors of the Teen Interfaith Leadership Council of Santa Clara County, took eight interfaith teenagers on an immersion experience to Santa Fe, New Mexico from July 25-29, 2016. This group of teenagers enriched each other’s interfaith experience by sharing their knowledge and practices of their own religious traditions of the following, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism.
This year, Rev. Jay Gibson, Vice President of Shinnyo-en Foundation and Temple Manager of the Shinnyo-en LA Temple, along with Yumi Okada, a Shinnyo-en Head Temple staff, joined as chaperons to the Shinnyo-en teens. The financial support from Shinnyo-en Foundation and the administrative assistance from the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley made this trip possible with reduced costs to the participants. Jennifer Nevarez of Community Learning Network, a long-time partner with Deacon Herrera, made the arrangements for the logistics and designed the educational programming in Santa Fe for this group. This year’s trip was exceptionally successful because the personal and religious knowledge and experiences were shared by all four adult chaperons and those were blended sensibly with the detailed planning and devotion to educate youth about the rich native cultures and histories in Santa Fe that Community Learning Network provided.
For the five days, the teens explored various religious traditions in Santa Fe and engaged in interfaith dialogue, and at night they shared their prayer practices and information about their religious traditions with each other.
Seeret, one of our Sikh participants noted about the trip that “The in-depth experience of talking to an elder of one faith, and hearing words of wisdom and sage advice about life as well as the faith was exceptional, I didn’t expect that at all. I just expected an introduction to the faith and then we’d look around and leave, but the fact we were able to ask so many questions and have practically every question answered in some ways with so much respect, that in and of itself made the trip wonderful.”
Carly, a Jewish participant observed that, “This trip was about getting to know other religions better and getting to meet new people from all around the United States and getting to know about their religion.” And Carly further pointed out that, “On a trip like this you make friends and you learn about new religions, and it’s a really cool experience. You learn so much and you go to places you would never go otherwise, and you personally appreciate your own faith more and you learn to embrace differences.”
Karen, a member of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order, reflected that, “It’s nice being able to share with other teenagers who are also religious because when you try to explain to your friends, sometimes they think this is just some superstition that just because your parents believe in, you do too. So sharing with people who also have faith even though they have different religions, they also understand that sometimes it’s hard to share with other people about religion because it’s something we’ve grown up with and it’s very much a part of us.”
Karen concluded by stating that, “Being able to have an understanding of other religions helps people to peaceably talk things through, as well as see things from others perspectives
In addition to exploring various religious traditions as the teens visited the Tibetan stupa, Zen Buddhist temple, Guadalupe Church, Christ in the Desert Monastery, and Sikh Ashram, they helped serve community lunch at the Santuario de Guadalupe Church. Angela, another Shinnyo-en Buddhist, wrote in her reflection that that was “the most impactful experience on this trip.” She continues “For many of those who came, that meal would be the only hot meal they would get that day, or even that week. This experience was significant to me because there is something different and inspiring about personally helping people in the community. They chatted with one another and even chatted with us.
By serving the hot meal to others, the teens experienced one of the commonalities of different religious traditions. All religions share the respect and compassion for others.
The video and photos courtesy of Deacon Steve Herrera.