Session I: 13th Youth Interfaith Council Session: “What Can Families Contribute to Faith, Social Stability and Human Development?”
This session, organized by the Geneva Interfaith Intercultural Alliance (GIIA) was opened by the current president of the Youth Interfaith Council, Rabbi Kevin De-Carli of the Jewish community of Baden in Switzerland’s Aargau canton. He welcomed the audience and the panelists and gave the floor to Mrs. Carolyn Handschin, the spokesperson of the Secretariat of the council.
Mrs. Handschin first read a short message of encouragement and support from the founding president of GIIA, H.E. Makarim Wibisono, the former ambassador of Indonesia to the UN in Geneva and former president of the General Assembly, the Human Rights Commission and holder of other high-ranking international positions. She then gave an overview of the past 12 years of activities and 10 Model UN Interfaith Youth Council sessions.
She also introduced the vision of UPF founders Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon for an interreligious council at the United Nations, as a possible upper house. Such a body could bring in core values and allow a faith-based approach to contribute constructively to solutions in current world affairs, she said.
Following this, the panelists were introduced and the topics of their debates announced. Rabbi De-Carli opened the official council session and presented the mandate of the interfaith youth delegates to the council members:
Youth representatives should argue for positive social outcomes rooted in the core family values of their traditions and their own life experiences. It was meant to build on the GIIA Model UN Youth Interfaith Council programs held over the last decade.
Then, as decided unanimously by the council members, Rabbi De-Carli, representing Judaism, was the first speaker of the panel. He painted vividly the image of his very diverse Jewish community in Baden, which was due to the influx from Jewish migrants from various parts of Europe and the world. Some Jewish members are even from Africa. In Judaism, the mother in the family plays a very crucial role, he said. In Jewish textbooks, one speaks of a marriage contract which is a catalogue of commitments that the husband has to make to his wife.
The Jewish community is very family-centered to the point that one can be a member only as a family, not as an individual, Rabbi De-Carli said. Between the individual and the government there is always the family. In light of that, there is very extensive care for widows, orphans and people without a direct family. They will be well taken care of as part of the extended family in the community, he said.
Ms. Atefeh Sadeghi, representing Islam, holds a master’s degree in peace and conflict transformation. She has been putting her expertise in peacebuilding and mediation at the disposal of the EastWest Institute. She expressed that she would want to change the title of the session to: “What can faith contribute to family and human development?”
Family is uniting voices together, allowing the individual to feel safe, stable and secure, Ms. Sadeghi said. The multilateral structure of the family currently has been interrupted. In a world where faith often is misused for political purposes, it is important to start from the basics. For her, faith helps her to keep a strong connection to higher core values that are necessary to live together with our neighbors. She called out to all to take faith as an element that unites families, so that the individual can grow and develop. We should speak together in ways that unite us and not that separate us!
Mr. Olivier Gravrand, representing Unificationism, is an engineer who works in Geneva. He introduced the three basic life goals (the three blessings described in the Bible’s Genesis) as expressed in his faith. The first fundamental life goal, “Be fruitful,” means that mind and body should unite centered on a higher purpose. The second life goal, “multiply and fill the earth,” means that we should create our own family and, based on stable families, create a peaceful community, society and world. The third basic life goal is to “reign over creation,” which describes the goal of good stewardship over the environment and achieving a certain level of mastery, finding our place within the living environment. Faith can have a very positive impact on our efforts to accomplish these three life goals, setting up a moral compass, a higher ideal, he said. With a faith-based approach, young people can be oriented toward worthy life goals and a dignified lifestyle, he said.
The number of broken families gives us a mandate that the faith-based support network for families, especially young families, needs to be improved Mr. Gravrand said. He reported about his community-building project work in Zimbabwe, Senegal and other African nations. He sees the golden rule of “living for the sake of others,” based on mind-body unity, as a great way to impact the society and the future world.
Mr. Ratnajit Sama, representing Hinduism, has been working in banking for 10 years and is married with a little daughter. Growing up in India helped him to understand the need for respect for diverse religions, he said. From very early in his life, the values of humility and great gratitude were instilled by his parents. The real joy of living a good life is that it provides self-esteem, he said. Training through various yoga programs can help us be disciplined and reach God.
We are taught in our family to take care of the poor and the weak, Mr. Sama said. There were different projects that his parents were involved in, mainly in service of the poor, the weak, organizing medical seminars, support groups, providing food. Hinduism aims to be a religion of perpetuity, he said. It believes that after this earthly life, there is another life to come. When thinking of day-to-day challenges, a Hindu must go beyond the self and try to reach out to other people. It is important to consider the whole world as one family. From the traditions in India, everyone is part of the great human family. All religions have something very positive to offer, but religion should involve the family. In this way things can improve, he said.
Ms. Jamie Morgan, representing the Protestant faith, is from a Methodist background and serves as an assistant to the Interfaith Executive Office of the WCC. She stated that for her, family is the place in time of need, providing economic stability, care, allowing young people to live valuable lives and acquire important life skills. For young people it is vital to have the backing of a family, so that we can become more socially involved, she said. Family provides a great contribution and reduces the number of homeless people. Currently there are countless situations of familial dysfunction, but those situations have always existed, she said. Many examples from the Bible demonstrate that families are not only a stabilizing factor in general but also, in case of problems, can heal, forgive and help to make a restart.
Ms. Kamaljit Kaur, representing the Sikh faith, felt that belonging to a strong family had a great influence on her life. Family is such an incredible backing, she said. Her example: She went through a divorce. Without her family’s support, it would have been so difficult.
The family gives us the experience of a healthy and rewarding social life, Ms. Kaur said. Reconciliation and solidarity are learned naturally. In families children learn to act responsibly and live harmoniously with each other and for each other. A life of value in the family is supported by faith, she said. Finally we can say that the family plays the main role in faith and human development, and therefore it is essential to have a strong family.
Following the presentations, the floor was opened to questions and comments from the audience. The panel concluded with a resolution to be proposed to the conference plenary at the end of the meeting.