What can 75 teenagers from around the world teach us about encounter?
Early July, Christian, Jewish and Muslim teenagers from different countries gathered at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to “build peace through a culture of encounter.”
The students — who came from Israel, Palestine, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Kenya, Burundi, Congo and Spain — shared their experiences and connected through music, poetry, sports and technology.
The summit was organized in part by Scholas Occurrentes, an organization initially formed in Argentina that promotes education, arts and sports to create a culture of encounter for peace. Its name means “schools encounter” in Latin.
Pope Francis has said that faith is an encounter with Christ, and we must imitate Jesus by encountering others. The Houston Catholic Worker observed that “the disciple encounters other people as a response to having an encounter with Christ in the first place.”
To encounter others, we must step out of ourselves — which is exactly what the young people did during their four-day summit in Jerusalem.
According to the Scholas website, the youth shared that often they can be so focused on their own problems that they are not even aware of issues affecting other parts of the world. So, meeting peers who could tell their stories was eye-opening.
Niri Boasson, a 16-year-old from Israel, told Scholas that she gained a new perspective. “I thought that Israel had the worst problems with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but discovered that there is a civil war in Congo,” she said.
“I never knew how blind I was to other problems and places,” said Adan Othman-Cabat, an 18-year-old from Palestine. “I would recommend this experience (of encounter and dialogue) to every human being.”
Throughout the summit, they also worked on ideas to promote a culture of encounter that would lead to peace and understanding. One idea was to have a bus take Israeli and Palestinian youth to play sports together, and another was to create an app to connect students from across the globe to shatter stereotypes.
At the end of the summit, the pope sent a video to the young people celebrating their experiences in Jerusalem. He said that the encounter took place once they were open to life and one another. “There are as many stories as individuals but life is one,” the pope said. “You yourselves, beginning from your differences, have achieved unity.”
Creating a culture of encounter also means building relationships with others. The Scholas teenagers also created a mural representing their dreams, passions, doubts and fears. Each student took a piece of the mural with them as a reminder that they are united by the same dream and goal: achieving peace.
In a world that is afraid of what is different and barriers are built out of fear, a true encounter is very much needed, the pope added. “We can be united and value the diversity of cultures, not a uniformity but in harmony,” he said.
By sharing with others and really getting to know their stories, we “encounter.” How can you encounter others in your life? You too can teach the world about encounter.