The conference, held online because of the changing response to COVID-19, was originally scheduled to be held at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute.
“Learning from books about the other is easier; but living together and sharing the same location and community is very challenging,” reflected World Council of Churches acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca in his opening remarks. “Even the students who have studied about the faiths of the others or have lived with people of other faiths as neighbours at home have discovered in Bossey that their knowledge is rather partial.”
Sauca further reflected: “Common formation is an expression of interfaith dialogue that enables people of different religions to work together both face-to-face and side-by-side.”
Prof. Rev. Dr Simone Sinn, who serves as academic dean at Bossey, described the components of the Certificate of Advanced Studies in Interreligious Studies course at Bossey.
“It’s an international course,” she said. “It’s English speaking and we deliberately invite students from around the world. But secondly we also want to have a diverse teaching body."
The interreligious course is student-centered, added Sinn. “We don’t have specific outcomes in terms of knowledge,” she said. “It’s the students’ own learning process from beginning to end.”
Bossey alumni Benjamin Kamine recalled with enthusiasm his time as Bossey student of interreligious studies in 2019. “It seems like a million years ago and it also seems like yesterday,” said Kamine. “It is a unique kind of transformation and self-reflection that this programme makes possible,” he added. “We have to be very active listeners and at the same time we have to speak from our personal context.”
Participants also heard about other programmes that successfully build interreligious bridges, such as “Together for Egypt: Imams—Priests Exchange.”
Archbishop Mouneer Anis, President Bishop of the Anglican Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, described the collaboration among the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt in collaboration with Al Azhar Al Sharif, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, other Christian denominations in Egypt and Beit El Aila.
“Our main aim is to encourage the imams and the priests to play a more active role in promoting national unity and religious harmony,” said Anis.
Other participants from different religions presented an interreligious perspective from many other nations, including opportunities for prayer in different religious traditions.
Those gathered also informally discussed the interreligious aspects of the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany in 2022.
The fruit of the conference will be development of “10 Principles for Common Formation” as a vital element for the future of interfaith dialogue.