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January 2019
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Religious Youth Service

Young Americans Learn Firsthand about World Faiths

Washington, D.C., United States—Young future leaders augmented their year-long training with eight days of learning firsthand about major world religions.

Religious Youth Service (RYS), a project of Universal Peace Federation, held a program in Washington, D.C., for 17 young men and women from throughout the United States who were participating in the college preparatory and faith-building activities offered by Generation Peace Academy (GPA).

The program, which took place from May 20 to 28, 2016, was the first time that GPA included RYS in its training course. The decision was made by the young participants from several early-summer options that GPA had considered. Three GPA staff members—Mrs. Louise Honey, Mr. Jan Pearson and Mr. Francis Marsal—joined in the program.

Initiated in 1986 by UPF founders Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, RYS develops young people’s personal leadership and peacemaking skills through interfaith education and service programs. The RYS training in making a practical difference in the world is built upon three pillars:

  • Interfaith education: to understand and learn respect for people of all faiths.
  • Briefings by experts about conflict resolution and peacebuilding: to learn from leaders of the communities of faith, government and NGOs
  • Service activity: to practice and develop team-building skills by organizing and engaging in real acts of service for others.

This year’s RYS in the U.S. capital was uniquely organized to introduce GPA participants to the core values of different religions and show how those values are expressed in the daily lives of the faithful. A Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk, a Protestant minister, and a Muslim educator gave personal explanations of their core beliefs.

The students also visited important religious sites in Washington: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the 10th largest Catholic cathedral in the world; the Washington Hebrew Congregation, where the students were shown a Torah scroll; and the Islamic Center, a beautiful mosque serving as a cultural and educational center for Muslims and non-Muslims.

The GPA participants were also briefed on varying peacebuilding strategies by government officials at the U.S. Department of State and Department of Education; by diplomatic staff at the embassies of Russia, Indonesia and Lithuania; and by policy analysts at the Heritage Foundation and the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy.

To provide additional understanding of Washington, D.C., and the real-world context of conflict resolution discussions, a professional tour guide led the participants on visits to the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial and John F. Kennedy’s gravesite.

The evening schedule featured discussions with many senior members of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), an affiliated organization, who had worked intimately with Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Moon from the early 1970s.

The final activities included the collective effort by all the students on a very hot day to clean the large, historic house designated as the UPF Peace Embassy. The RYS graduation ceremony was conducted in the Founders’ Room at The Washington Times, where each participant was appointed a Youth Ambassador for Peace.

The first full RYS-GPA program required eight nights and nine days of investment by students and staff. Through close observation and involvement with the students, the staff of both organizations recognized the important value of a well-executed RYS program to GPA as well as to comparable youth-education and faith-building programs.

From the frank testimonies of the GPA students, it was acknowledged that the program was eye-opening, inspiring, and provocative in providing a view into the faith-based efforts of so many exceptional people who are working effectively and seriously at the highest levels of government and society to make their ideals into reality, creating a better, more peaceful world.

This summer's program has initiated discussions and planning about developing more extensive and effective cooperation between RYS and GPA.

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