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November 2017
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Religious Youth Service

Ufa, Russia, Welcomes Interreligious Pilgrimage

Ufa, Russia - During World Interfaith Harmony Week, a Religious Youth Service program took place February 1-5 in Ufa, capital of Russia's Bashkortostan. The object of the event was to bring together young people of different faiths to promote a tradition of tolerance in relations between different religious traditions and encourage fruitful cooperation for peace in this Ural Mountain region. It was assumed that the open meetings and joint participation of youth of different confessions could contribute to strengthening friendly relations and mutual understanding.

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There were training sessions on the theme of living in peace with others, principles of harmony, cause of conflicts, and principles for resolving conflicts.

Interreligious pilgrimage

In the republic of Bashkortostan, there are different religions, including Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Participants in the event had the opportunity to visit the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, a Jewish synagogue, a mosque and madrasah (Islamic school), and an Evangelical Lutheran Church.

After the excursion the participants shared their impressions. Here are some comments:

  • "I never went to the synagogue before; although I live nearby, I did not dare to go to there. And now, thanks to the project, I will be able to make my own opinion about Jewish culture, and unflattering assertions about Jews will not change my attitude to them."
  • "While visiting the synagogue, I felt I wanted to become a Jew; in the Orthodox Church I felt I wanted to become an Orthodox Christian."

In the mosque, they observed a common prayer, and the imam explained about their tradition of prayer and demonstrated how to pray. In the Lutheran church they were welcomed and treated to tea. The participants noted that the leaders of all religions called on people to love God and love their neighbor.

Helping others

The participants helped low-income families. They went to visit poor elderly people and helped them clean around the house. Young participants of the project, divided in pairs, provided assistance to lonely elderly people, who because of the state of their health could not provide for themselves.

Volunteers admitted that sometimes they had to overcome their feelings as they were helping to clean the rooms. One said, "I was beside myself seeing that people could live in such filth. At first it was disgusting, but then I said to myself, suppose these are my close relations. When we were little, they took care of us, and now we need to take care of them."

Another volunteer reported, "We helped one elderly woman, 82 years old, who took care of her paralyzed son by herself. I was happy to help her and felt as if she was my own grandmother and I had come to help her for that reason."

Through working together on the social service program, the volunteers became very close to each other. At the beginning of the project their relations were somewhat tense, but by the end of the program, the participants communicated as if they were members of the same family. Joint service of helping other people promoted dialogue and dissolved any reasons for conflict.

Play football, make peace

A mini-football tournament on the theme "Play football, make peace" also took place in the framework of the project. Among the participants were followers of different religions. The players were divided into mixed teams. Altogether there were six matches. One of the participants reported that they were really surprised by the atmosphere of friendly communication during the game: there was no profanity, no conflict, and no injuries.

A roundtable on inter-confessional cooperation

Participants in a roundtable on inter-confessional cooperation included Ainur Arslanov - head of the Youth Department of the Spiritual Association of Muslims in the Republic of Bashkortostan; Shaul Igal – the first deputy of the chief Rabbi of Bashkortostan; Victor Afanasiev, Managing Director of the Council of Russians in Bashkortostan; Dmitry Vladimirovich Oficerov, Secretary General of UPF-Siberia; Leisan Tagirovna Khusainova - leading specialist and expert with the Council for State-Denominational Relations under the President of the Republic of Bashkortostan.

As a result, the participants in the meeting adopted the following Declaration for Cooperation:

  1. We support the resolution of the UN General Assembly (November 23, 2010) for celebrating World International Harmony Week and are ready to organize annual programs in February related to that date and aimed at rapprochement and cooperation among various religious confessions in the Republic of Bashkortostan.
  2. We invite representatives of state bodies, educational institutions, religious organizations, mass media, and creative intelligentsia, in recognition of their great impact on society, to contribute to the development of the dialogue between the state and different religions in the Republic of Bashkortostan and Ufa.
  3. Recognizing the right to freedom of conscience and religion of each citizen of Russia, we call for people to respect the religious beliefs and desires for cultural, spiritual, and moral advancement.
  4. Considering the diversity of historical religious traditions, the uniqueness of each of them should be respected.
  5. Taking into account the experience of religious organizations in the sphere of social service, we encourage them to expand their cooperation in social-service activities.

Reported by Dmitry Oficerov, Secretary General, UPF-Siberia

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