Humanitarian and Youth Programs


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Religious Youth Service

St. Petersburg House of Writers Hosts Religious Youth Service Project

St. Petersburg, Russia - People from Russia, Estonia, and Latvia assembled in the beautiful hall of the House of Writers near St. Petersburg for a Religious Youth Service project January 24-27 helping clean the building and visiting religious sites in the area.

The cultural capital of Russia and home of notable Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist places of worship, UPF-Russia envisions St. Petersburg as a potential "city of interfaith harmony." In the nearby village of Komarovo, the House of Writers, which has hosted notable authors for six decades, opened its doors to people wishing to learn about a variety of faith traditions.

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Each day started with the declaration of the word of the day – a moral notion highlighting the day. The first word was TOLERANCE. To explore its meaning, the coordinator, Dmitry Oficerov, conducted a training on the theme of “Living in peace with others.” Then the film “Tolerance as a way towards a culture of peace” was shown and discussed. At a party after dinner, participants from Estonia and Latvia shared about their nation as well as some unique aspects of their culture and their religion. Everything was interesting and informative.

The word of the second day was UNITY. In the morning participants visited some temples in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the Buddhist temple and the mosque were closed to the public that day, but the synagogue offered a warm welcome. At the end of visit participants bought kosher matzo that Jews prepare for Pesach. They also visited a Catholic church, the parish of Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary. It was opened especially to give the participants an opportunity to look at the art and architecture and understanding some of the distinctive aspects of the Catholic faith. Although the Buddhist temple was closed people could feel the peaceful atmosphere of Buddhism and touch the walls. The same was true of the mosque, which impressed everyone with its beauty, power, and monumental scale.

At the House of Writers, participants were expected to perform some volunteer work as part of their service-learning experience. Participants joined in with enthusiasm, helping to clean carpets that were so large that the janitors were unable handle them. The young men carried them out onto the snow and the young women carefully cleaned them. Also the men helped to load onto a dump truck some planks that were hauled off and stacked at their destination.

Denis Pigasov gave a lecture on “Universal principles and life goals,” followed by discussion. After dinner, there was another interesting training on “Peacemaking and solving of conflicts” conducted by Tatyana Krasnosumova.

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The word of the third day was FAMILY. At the beginning of the day, the participants continued cleaning. They handled the tasks well, and their work was highly appreciated by the directorate of the House of Writers. An interactive training on “Family as a school of love” was conducted by Tatyana Pigasova, coordinator of the program. The purpose of the training was to help the participants reflect on family experiences and roles.

Afterwards, the group traveled by suburban electric train to Zelenogorsk, a seven-minute ride from Komarovo. The plan was to visit a Lutheran church and the Orthodox Christian Church of the Kazan Mother of God icon. In the Lutheran Church the group was warmly welcomed and offered tea (which was greatly appreciated, because the weather was extremely cold). There was an explanation about the church and a tour of the building. In the Orthodox Church the group listened to an explanation about the interior of the church, the iconostasis, and the meaning of the icons.

After coming back, a participant of the program, Alexander Popov, a Buddhist, gave a short lecture about his religion and traditions. Tatyana Krasnosumova conducted an interactive training on “Live religions.” The participants discussed the following issues: is it necessary to study religions if you are not religious or if you belong to a certain confession? What is the purpose of studying world religions? At the end of the training, a slide presentation on the theme “A letter from a friend” was shown and discussed.

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One important task of the day was to develop a proposal for a future project under the guidance of Dmitry Oficerov. Participants were asked to plan an activity that they would like to carry out, based on the themes of interreligious cooperation, family, volunteerism.

Project 1. “Interfaith Ecological Project” would aim to bring together youth of different religions to clean a city park and plant young trees. The main goal would be to instill the principle of living for the benefit of others through service, fostering community spirit, promoting spiritual growth, and developing a harmonious personality. The authors of this project hope to carry it out as part of UPF's Baltic Dialogue initiative and involve participants from Baltic States.

Project 2. “Family Parlor” is a vision for a club for young people preparing for marriage, young families, and families with small children. There would be meetings during which young people could share their experiences, get answers to questions, and receive expert advice.

Each project was considered in detail by representatives of UPF, and they decided to support both.

The word for the last day was HARMONY. Participants gave a performance that included original poems, songs, music, and poetry by Esenin and Aligher. Then they presented a skit based on the famous Russian folk tale “Repka” and sang a beautiful song about the wonderful city. At the end, everybody opened their “little sacks of happiness,” a traditional activity aimed at teaching the principle of “giving and forgetting that you gave.” On the first day, each participant received by lottery the name of a secret friend. As the days went by, participants filled their sacks with small souvenirs (in secret, the others wouldn't guess the name of the secret friend). On the final day everybody received a bag filled with evidence that someone was thinking of him or her.

The culmination of the project was the “Podium of Harmony” conducted by Maria Resina of UPF-Latvia. First she introduced guests who shared about their religion and its attitude toward other religions. Afterwards, Religious Youth Service were presented to all the participants.

For more information about UPF-Eurasia's Baltic Dialogue Initiative, click here.

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