Reflection: Prayer Parade

Ellie Anders Thompson traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI program to connect young adult interfaith leaders to the UN and each other.  Ellie is part of Golden Rule Project, an Affiliate of the United Religions Initiative North America. What follows is Ellie’s reflection on an interfaith service the group attended

By Ellie Anders Thompson

The gathering of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week was what I affectionately call a Prayer Parade. It goes like this, group of people from various religious traditions, sometimes non-religious, are asked to offer a prayer. At times the prayers are around certain themes, sometimes not, this time, around “world peace.” One after another folks of various faiths come to the microphone and say different versions in different languages of, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”

In my humble opinion, it’s just not enough in interfaith work any longer. It is colorful, shiny, and curious, but it’s just not going to cut it when it comes to the challenges we are facing. We know the greatest sources of social capital come from these religious and non-religious communities, and they, therefore, have the greatest potential to actually do something to create the potential for peace. I am not sure gathering in a room with different headdresses and sing-alongs are the actions that will have long-term effects toward peace.

Continue reading “Reflection: Prayer Parade”

Appreciating Diversity, Finding Inspiration: My URI Trip to the UN

Commission on Social Development Rico Ocampo

Rico Ocampo traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America program to help connect young adult interfaith leaders to the United Nations and each other and to promote World Interfaith Harmony Week, International Day of Peace. Ocampo is the Program Director of Camp Anytown, a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative.

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“Diversity is a source of inspiration.”

Those are the words that were uttered from the Hungarian Ambassador to the United Nations, Katalin Bogyay. Those exact words were ingrained in my soul during an interfaith service that was part of my trip to New York City where I had the utmost privilege of attending the 56th Commission for Social Development at the United Nations.

This trip took place as part of a celebration for World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) and was put on by the United Religions Initiative (URI), an organization that has allowed me to look at interfaith through a worldwide lens. The trip is one that I will never forget and an experience that I will invariably hold close to my heart. My views on youth development and the world have fiercely risen and it is all due to the efforts of URI and their commitment to creating wider bridges between people of all beliefs.

Continue reading “Appreciating Diversity, Finding Inspiration: My URI Trip to the UN”

My URI Trip to New York City: Visiting the UN, Meeting Fellow Leaders and Understanding the Global Power of Interfaith Work

Anjaana Bhairo traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America program to help connect young adult interfaith leaders to the United Nations and each other and to promote World Interfaith Harmony Week, International Day of Peace. Bhairo is a member of the University of Rochester Interfaith Chapel, a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative.

By Anjaana Bhairo

It’s amazing to think that it has already been a week since I met some of the most amazing people in New York City! I have so many memories from this trip that it is going to be hard to summarize all the experiences, feelings and lessons I learned during my three days in New York City. However, I hope that this travel journal can at least share a snippet of how impactful, exciting and transformative the trip has been for me.

Thinking back now, I have realized that I have so many memories from this trip that were both amusing and inspiring. My favorite memory was watching Rico, a participant from Las Vegas, eat Indian food for first time. Another favorite of mine was observing Hassan, a participant from Tri-City Interfaith Council in the San Francisco area, experience snow for the first time. Both experiences reminded me of how each of us came from different walks of life, yet we all shared a similar vision and desire to achieve interfaith cooperation and acceptance. While, Rico’s and Hassan’s experience definitely left an imprint on my memory, a moment that I will always remember and cherish was learning about what each participant had accomplished back at home. Continue reading “My URI Trip to New York City: Visiting the UN, Meeting Fellow Leaders and Understanding the Global Power of Interfaith Work”

From coast to coast, neighbors find common ground during World Interfaith Harmony Week

Every year, United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circles all over the world host events to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week. This first week of February brings people of all different faith traditions together to create a culture of peace, love, and understanding.

In 2010, King Abdullah II of Jordan addressed the United Nations about his desire for faith-driven world harmony, and proposed Interfaith Harmony Week. This week, celebrated in the first week of February every year, seeks to unite the basic principles of humanity and kindness that each faith is built upon. Soon, this idea was turned into an official UN Observance Event. In 2017, events took place across the United States and Canada celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week.

In Syracuse, New York, over 500 people gathered for the Seventh Annual World Interfaith Harmony Assembly. This year’s event, organized by United

World Interfaith Harmony Assembly was attended by hundreds of people celebrating the diversity and commonalities of their faiths.

Religions Initiative Cooperation Circles Interfaith Works and Women Transcending Boundaries, had the biggest turnout to date, with hundreds packing the University United Methodist Church to show support for one another. Representatives from twelve different religions participated in the assembly under the theme “Love is the Answer.” Each group took turns presenting when and why their faith teaches that love is the answer.

Next year, the assembly will take place at a place of worship from another faith tradition.

“It’s great that we have this event at different locations each year for everyone to get a unique experience,” said Danya Wellmon, one of the organizers of the event.

Bound together by World Interfaith Harmony Week, hundreds of miles away a group of people Danya has never met work towards the same goal — giving people a unique experience of their neighbor’s faith.

In Fremont, California, over 150 people attended World Interfaith Harmony Day, an event sponsored by the Tri-City Interfaith Council, which is a United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle; the Fremont Human Relations Commission; and the Alameda County Human Relations Commission.

At the event, sixteen different faith communities set up tables with literature and artistic displays showcasing their tradition. After about an hour of people visiting these tables, participants were broken into small groups for discussion with people from different traditions. In these groups, each person took turns speaking about how their faith compels them to help their neighbors.

“This year, [rather than having a panel discussion] we decided to have people interact with each other at a lay level. You should see human beings and hear their stories. When you meet ordinary people, they share stories. Personal stories are very powerful,” said organizer Moina Shaiq.

Though across the country from one another, organizers of both these events felt the same way: the timing of World Interfaith Harmony week this year was especially appropriate given the current political atmosphere.

“You can see the rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and the increase of fear within people it’s caused, which is why we need these type of events,” said Wellmon.

At the event in Fremont, Muslims community members were able to share their concern and fear about living in the current political climate.

“People are starting to make the connection [of] why we are so sacred,” said Shaiq, who is a Muslim herself.

“We made our way to the Gurdwara Sahib Brookside in the snowy blizzard. This is place of worship for the Sikhs … Surinder, our host, received us graciously in the community kitchen.”

In Surrey, British Columbia, a community of people set out to make more of these types of connections happen — to unite people of different faiths and traditions together to show support and further understanding of one another, as well as to build solidarity with the victims and families who had lost relatives in the Quebec shooting. Despite the Third Annual Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage being canceled due to heavy snow, a group of people still made the pilgrimage, which consisted of a long, cold walk through Surrey to visit seven different places of worship.

By the end of the pilgrimage, the group had visited six houses of worship — a Buddhist temple, Hindu Mandir (temple), Christian church, Muslim Masjid and two Sikh Gudwaras. At these places of worship, members of each faith welcomed the visitors, conversed, and built bridges. At the Hindu Mandir, participants were treated to a meal in a traditional spiritual offering ceremony.

“When we are confronted with deep loss, fear often emerges in our thoughts,” said participant Scott Reynolds “Walking and sharing a meal together is a tangible, bodily demonstration of unity that reminds us to let go of fear and move forward in love.”

Connie Watermon, one of the event organizers, stressed the possibility for interfaith work to create peace, and why these events are so important.

“Each one of us has the ability, individually and collectively, to be compassionate, selfless, and loving. These attributes are strengthened by religious values taught by all the world’s great religions,” she said. “Together we can create a better world by concentrating all the thoughts of our heart on love and unity, [and] then aligning our actions to reflect that thought.”

You can read more about World Interfaith Harmony Week events celebrated across Canada, the US and world, by clicking hereIf you would like to get involved in interfaith work and/or the United Religions Initiative, click here to find the Cooperation Circle nearest you.

This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Ryan Polsky.

The Pilgrimage – a snowy walk in beauty, compassion, grace and mercy

The Surrey Interfaith Council, an Affiliate of URI North America, hosted an Interfaith Pilgrimage to mark United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, which is the first week of February every year. To read about other activities held to celebrate the week, click here.

By Gordon Leslie, Surrey Interfaith Council

Although the third annual Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage was officially cancelled due to heavy snowfall, there were many participants who moved with integrity to bring compassion, peace, understanding and solidarity to the forefront. The purpose of the event was to bring people from diverse backgrounds and worldviews together to affirm our collective commitment to building peace and understanding in our community.

The first pilgrimage was in response to the November 12, 2015 bombing attacks in southern Beirut and Paris. This year, we aimed to build solidarity with the victims and their families who had recently lost their loved ones in the Quebec shooting. We began with an exchange of blessings for peace and understanding at the Thien Ton Buddhist Temple and went past six other houses of worship: Northwood United Church, Laxmi Narayan Hindu Mandir, Gurdwara Sikh Sahib

Arriving at the Thien Ton Buddhist Temple, the blossom trees were covered with a thick blanket of snow. Icicles glistened and caught the gleaming rays of sunshine.

Brookside, Surrey Jamia Muslim Masjid and the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara. A small ceremony was hosted at each site to cultivate in people a deeper sense of their own religious identity, while also buildingrelationship with people who come from different cultural and religious backgrounds.

Arriving at the Thien Ton Buddhist Temple, the blossom trees were covered with a thick blanket of snow. Icicles glistened and caught the gleaming rays of sunshine. David, who organized the walk, and Gordon, one of the volunteers, went there early in the morning to make sure that no one was stranded. Their safety was paramount. To their surprise, Robert, Andrea and their daughter, Sophia showed up. They had heard about the pilgrimage on the radio and they just could not miss out on the opportunity to explore the possibility of exploring the different houses of worship, build friendship with people from diverse backgrounds, share a meal and build solidarity with Canadians. This would also be an inclusive study field trip for Sophia.

A generous lunch was served to everyone at the Laxmi Narayan Hindu Mandir

A generous lunch was served to everyone at the Laxmi Narayan Hindu Mandir. Vinay introduced our team to their congregation and we participated in the spiritual offering ceremony. In keeping with Hindu practices and traditions, the society operates a Vivek Hindi School, which teaches class every Sunday. Meditation, yoga, and ESL classes are offered every week. The largest annual Hindu festivals are organized by their directors.
Trekking through the snow, Scott Reynolds’ contemplative words came to mind. A former event organizer and Minister of Youth from the United Churches of Langley, he said that: “When we are confronted with deep loss, fear often emerges in our thoughts. Walking and sharing a meal together is a tangible, bodily demonstration of unity that reminds us to let go of fear and move forward in love.”

We made our way to the Gurdwara Sahib Brookside in the snowy blizzard. This is place of worship for the Sikhs in the Brookside and Bear Creek area. They gather to hear their spiritual leaders speak and to listen to holy hymns. Surinder, our host, received us graciously in the community kitchen.

“We made our way to the Gurdwara Sahib Brookside in the snowy blizzard. This is place of worship for the Sikhs … Surinder, our host, received us graciously in the community kitchen.”

We drank a warm cup of chai infused with the sweet aroma of cardamons, ate gelabee sweets and the social conversation blossomed over jobs, families, children and our travels in the world. We all share the same hopes and dreams for our chidren. He guided us upstairs to the prayer hall and informed us of the services offered during the week.

Heading to the Surrey Jamia Muslim Mosque, an air of sadness brought us back to a closer reality. I reflected on why I chose to lend a hand. David, the Surrey Interfaith Council team and I truly believe that the goal of the pilgrimage was to develop a sense of mutual trust, respect, an understanding across religious traditions, and to reduce religiously motivated violence, stereotyping, bigotry, or hatred.

“The goal of the pilgrimage was to develop a sense of mutual trust, respect, an understanding across religious traditions, and to reduce religiously motivated violence, stereotyping, bigotry, or hatred.”

Uniting people across faith and ideological lines creates an environment of interfaith harmony.
We were received by the Muslim congregants with appreciation, compassion, dignity, and respect. We stated clearly that the voice of a terrorist is not the overarching voice of Canadians. The true voice of Canadians embraces the fruits of the spirit: compassion, gentleness, goodness, grace, forbearance, fortitude, mercy, kindness, patience, self-control and understanding. David had gathered a dozen of messages of solidarity from the Surrey Interfaith Council and we were ready to share them all.

We shared their sadness and mourned for the victims and their families. We were engaged in a process of healing that was collaborative laden with compassion, grace, mercy and kindness.

“David had gathered a dozen of messages of solidarity from the Surrey Interfaith Council and we were ready to share them.”

We prayed with them, shared a cup of warm tea and had muffins and samosas. We were actively promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation to end politically and religiously motivated violence. We aspired to build cultures of compassion, peace understanding and healing in a fragmented world.

 

We left an hour later and walked to the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara to meet the congregants. We were served a warm dinner, went upstairs to the music and prayer hall and reflected on the blessings of the day.Connie Waterman’s words rang so true right in that moment. An event organizer from the Baha’i community, she reflected on the role of religious values in creating peace: “Each one of us has the ability, individually and collectively, to be compassion, selfless and loving. These attributes are strengthened by religious values taught by all the world’s great religions. Together we can create a better world by concentrating all the thoughts of our heart on love and unity, then aligning our actions to reflect that thought.”

We were served a warm dinner, went upstairs to the music and prayer hall and reflected on the blessings of the day.

The Amazing Tutors Children’s Foundation appreciates David Dalley, Gordon Leslie, Dr. Das and Connie Waterman and our amazing directors and the entire Surrey Interfaith Council for pursuing interfaith harmony, peace and non-violence within our city. Thank you, Surrey Interfaith Council, for providing the opportunity for all of us to participate in a giving and caring community. With permission from the kind and thoughtful members, we would like to share all these heart-felt and powerful messages of solidarity with the media, so everyone will have the opportunity feel the power of solidarity and unity: We are one and we are Canadians fighting for compassion, peace and understanding. The pilgrimage was surprisingly a snowy walk in beauty, compassion, grace and mercy. May we walk together very soon when spring knocks on our doors.

Towards Global Citizenship: Building Community through Art and Conversation at the UN

Kelly Johnson traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America-sponsored program for young adult interfaith leaders. This trip occurred during World Interfaith Harmony Week. Kelly works at the Rothko Chapel,  a sacred space and work of art by painter Mark Rothko. Rothko Chapel is a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative.

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Before I left Houston for NYC, the Rothko Chapel offered a Bon-Buddhist meditation focused on the importance of community support, in response to recent local and national events that have engendered division, hate, and fear across the country. The Chapel, located in a city as diverse as the UN itself, hosts meditation leaders from different spiritual and faith traditions each month, but this gathering was particularly special.

Upon closing, the 90 seated meditators were prompted to emerge from their individual, inner practices to stand and join hands in a circle. Participants were asked greet and embrace their neighbors, extending their peaceful practice outward—reaffirming what affects one affects all, and that we can only move forward if we do so together. Integral to this harmonious atmosphere, Rothko’s sobering purple-ish paintings served as stoic witness, mirroring the moment of unity.

With this auspicious gathering setting the tone for my own journey outward, I wondered if and how the UN might structure community building moments like this, both locally in NYC and on a global scale, and how interfaith work and art might play a role. My UN experience was profoundly shaped by conversations with the URI cohort, along with the UN’s art collection, which inspires and honors the meaningful exchanges that transpire within.

Our group visited during the 55th Session of the Commission for Social Development, focusing on the seemingly impenetrable topic: “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all.” We attended several panels concentrating on approaches to empowering youth across the globe, highlighting new avenues for access to employment, housing, policy, technology, and communications.

During these fascinating, but rather choreographed sessions, representatives spoke from scripts one at a time about their experiences and observations in their countries on these topics, with little comment or cross-conversation between presenters.

It is within the art-filled corridors and interactive side panels organized by smaller UN agencies and NGOs where real community building takes place.

Between sessions, our group explored the lobbies, lounges, and hallways of the UN, stopping frequently to admire and inquire about the artwork on the walls. The UN’s art collection comprises a range of objects: tapestries, paintings, and sculptures gifted by member states sharing their ideals and traditions with one another; historical artifacts and photos from peace and war times; and illustrative graphics, maps, and exhibits on rotating topics.

While each artwork maintains its own unique story from its country of origin, when placed within the UN, it joins a diverse collection that establishes new transhistorical, transgeographical, and transideological community space.

Here paintings serve as landmarks for meetings between colleagues from different nations, sculptures provide a location for moments of ritual and remembrance, and murals play backdrop to tourist photos that are shared digitally with communities around the world.

 

Among my favorite works is Friend of Peace (2000) by Vasko Taskovski, a gift from Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (which previously hung in Former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office). The airy painting depicts a rocketing dove-as-space station hovering in the clear atmosphere—a lush hub attracting visitors from across the universe to peacefully convene within.

Perhaps the artist imagines this as the funky future of the UN, or as an ideal progression toward a larger intergalactic community of humankind thriving in concert with others. Friend of Peace divines a space, even a state of mind, that welcomes all.

Back in meetings, we were able to explore that vision of a peaceful world more deeply through conversation. Returning to the UN on our second day, fellow URI trip participant Leah and I were lucky to participate in a side panel organized by several NGOs, including URI, on establishing a Coalition for Global Citizenship education as “a conceptual and practical prerequisite to the eradication of poverty.”

We were invited to help activate this side panel by reading aloud the Coalition’s working statement on the importance of establishing international curriculum for Global Citizenship. Following the reading, we facilitated small group workshops on the statement, in order to glean community input and identify action items to further advance the agenda.

This side panel finally offered time for focused conversations between people from all over the world on what it means to be a global citizen, while sharing solutions on how to bring this issue to the attention of more UN agencies.

The Coalition and participants alike agreed that spirituality—a sense of universal interconnectedness on our shared Earth—is integral to understanding Global Citizenship, enacted through discourse and action from “the individual to the local to the global and back again.”

While the UN remains a significant meeting ground, the work comes alive when the individual (ambassador, tourist, etc) returns to their local community mobilized to activate global concepts within their own sphere of influence. Upon arriving home, I am inspired with refreshed insight to continue working at the intersection of art, spirituality, and human rights—providing a Global Citizenship curriculum of our own for Houstonians at the Rothko Chapel.

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Read reflections from other trip participants here and here

World Interfaith Harmony Week celebrated in British Columbia

By Acharya S.P.Dwivedi

People, all around the world, are getting frustrated and depressed by the consistent stories of violence and persecution on the name of religion through media. Humankind is in epoch of transition and human race is looking for a new philosophy, a new paradigm  and a new consciousness to build  bridges of peace and harmony on earth. It is undeniable reality that we have to create safe spaces for people of all belief systems, cultures and spiritual traditions. H.M.King Abdullah II of Jordan initiated a  credible interfaith harmony  resolution which was unanimously adopted by UNO on October 20, 2010. The first week of February was declared as a World Interfaith Harmony Week.

It was based on the pioneering work of the Common World Initiative that focused on fundamental religious Commandments-‘Love of God’ and ‘love of Neighbour’ but the WIHW extends it by adding ‘Love of the Good’ and ‘Love of the Neighbour’. It includes those of other faiths, and those with no faiths.

It provides a platform -one week in a year- to demonstrate that interfaith, faith and other groups of goodwill can work together to cultivate the environment of peace and harmony by building ties with each others in our communities. It emphasises on elimination of intolerance, and discrimination based on religion and belief. During the first week of February all around the world religious, peace and cultural organisations arrange events for creating dialogues to enhance mutual understanding, respect, cooperation and harmony.

The Global Clergy Association of Canada, a Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, has been celebrating WIHW since 2012. This year on February 4,2017 an interfaith conference was organised at 10122-140 St, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Surrey. The theme of the conference was ‘How Communication Can Enhance Interfaith Harmony’. It was a joint program with host church and sponsored by Multifaith Action Society. In spite of unfavourable weather a good number of people participated in the conference.

Tonya Engen of the host church and Dr.J.Das , President of GCAOC welcomed the guests. Rev.Paul Hardy ( Christianity), Avinash Maniram(Hindu Dharma) and Dr.J.Das (Interfaith) presented articulately their views that inspired and enlightened the audience. The guests enjoyed  rich vegetarian lunch which was served by Tonya during intermission.The well accomplished students of Naad Foundation  electrified the audience with their impressive devotional music.Connie Waterman,Avinash and Eden facilitated the live round table discussions.Majority of the discussants agreed that:

  1. Youths should be taught to the core values of interfaith-mutual understanding, respect, love and care for each others.
  2. Persuade people to celebrate festivals of other religions.
  3. Encourage people to visit centres of other religions.
  4. Hear and embrace even those who are close-minded.
  5. Accept differences and seek commonality.

Acharya Dwivedi as MC thanked the speakers, musicians, guests and the volunteers of the host  Mormon church. The conference was concluded with the closing prayer offered by Rev.Paul Hardy.

 

VIDEO: World Interfaith Harmony Week at the United Nations

Leah Schwartz traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America-sponsored program for young adult interfaith leaders. This trip occurred during World Interfaith Harmony Week. Schwartz is a member of the University of Rochester Interfaith Chapel, a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative.

The following video encapsulates my experience at the UN for World Interfaith Harmony Week with the United Religions Initiative. I hope that by watching my story you can get a sense of the jam-packed two days I spent at the UN with other members of URI Cooperation Circles and URI United Nations Representative Monica Willard. The video includes images and videos from a high-level panel for the 55th Commission for Social Development, a tour of the UN, and a side event titled “Global Citizenship in Eradicating Poverty.” The video is mediated via Snapchat, an application that allows users to create digital stories.

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Read reflections from other trip participants here and here

How my trip to the UN changed me

Jaxon Washburn traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America-sponsored program for young adult interfaith leaders. This trip occurred during World Interfaith Harmony Week. Washburn is the founder of The World and Religion Tolerance Society, a high school interfaith in Arizona and a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative. 

Recently, I had the tremendous fortune of traveling to and attend the 55th Commission for Social Development at the United Nations in New York City.

This took place as part of a celebration for World Interfaith Harmony Week put on through a grassroots non-profit organization that I am a part of called the United Religions Initiative. The whole journey was an unreal experience and greatly expanded my own perspective on the world, youth engagement, and of course, the increasing importance of the values of interfaith in the world today.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is celebrated during the first week of February, and my trip was the first three days of the global week of interfaith observance. After a long, yet occupied plane ride in anticipation of the impending experience, I touched down in New Jersey at the Newark Airport. From there, I took a shuttle bus directly to our in Times Square. During the ride, I was happy to engage in some conversation with a group of Belgian tourists, the topics ranging from where we had traveled to relevant politics. Already at that point, extreme diversity was completely apparent everywhere I looked. After reaching the hotel, I explored Times Square and the bustling city surrounding me.

New York could only be compared to some massive organism that never slept and was always on the move, breathing in and out massive crowds of cars and humans alike.

Culture shock is a highly accurate description of the feeling I experienced at that time. No matter where I set my gaze, a myriad of ethnicities, persons, and languages were present. Having an internal radar of all things religious, I often found myself guessing or identifying nearby individuals according to their faith. Whether walking or driving through the city, one could easily spot many Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists. I was in awe, both of the towering edifices crammed in such close proximity to each other, as well as the multitude of hosts they contained. New York could only be compared to some massive organism that never slept and was always on the move, breathing in and out massive crowds of cars and humans alike.

After being very much overwhelmed by the change of scenery, I joined with the small group of other youth representatives I was staying with, and after getting dinner in an Irish pub, we retired for the night.

The next day, we all awoke bright and early and took off to get our proper identification for our impending day at the United Nations. Our hotel being on 41st Street, we walked several blocks through the city, even passing through Grand Central Station, before we got to the identification building so that we could get certified to enter the United Nations itself. After a process of handing over our papers and getting temporary lanyards with our official U.N. ID’s, we went through various security checkpoints to get properly screened. Being the foremost center of international diplomacy, the security was far more intensive and rigorous than I had ever before experienced.

After briefly surveying the inner room, we quickly walked to the meeting room where we would observe our first of two meetings. This session was titled “Promoting Integrated Policies for Poverty Eradication: Youth Development in the 2030 Agenda” and was attended by various representatives from all over the world.

Finally, stepping out of security after being deemed clean of any contraband items, we stepped into the central courtyard of the United Nations. The morning air was crisp and after a brief photo shoot in front of the various symbolic statues and outdoor works of art, we stepped through the grand entrance of the main UN building. After briefly surveying the inner room, we quickly walked to the meeting room where we would observe our first of two meetings. This session was titled “Promoting Integrated Policies for Poverty Eradication: Youth Development in the 2030 Agenda” and was attended by various representatives from all over the world. They all spoke about how their country was focusing on increasing socioeconomic development in their youth and women through social programs, education, and various empowerment projects. China, Madagascar, Portugal, Uruguay, Iran and others all voiced their reports on the development of such efforts in their respective countries.

Afterward, our group got a quick lunch in one of the cafes in the building and then took part in an interactive discussion regarding youth delegate programs in the United Nations. There, various youth representatives from countries such as Australia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Netherlands and others were able to share some of the successes, challenges, highlights and obstacles they had faced in taking part in their country’s Youth Delegate programs.

We toured the remainder of the United Nations building that we had access to. We were able to view gifts and international artwork, as well as exhibits.

Afterward, we toured the remainder of the United Nations building that we had access to. We were able to view gifts and international artwork, as well as exhibits dedicated to the history of the United Nations, tragedies such as the Holocaust, and modern epidemics such as sexual violence and the conflicts in the Middle East. Every item had a story, and every story made a special impression on those who experienced it, myself included. Following a full day there, we soon retired back to our hotel rooms for a few hours before joining together again to end the night with a group dinner at a local Italian restaurant.

The final day as the other members of my group departed, I was finally able to really tour New York and make special visits to its foremost tourist spots. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Memorial for the World Trade Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the New York Public Library, the Holocaust Museum, and Central Park were all destinations I quickly make stops at before finally catching my shuttle to the airport and embarking on the plane ride home.

I returned from New York, the United Nations, and the trip as a changed individual. While there, my perspective became more global and my worldview enriched, with several meaningful relationships fostered with those I had spent time with there.

Jaxon (2nd from right) with other URI members visiting the United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week.

In the end, I returned from New York, the United Nations, and the trip as a changed individual. While there, my perspective became more global and my worldview enriched, with several meaningful relationships fostered with those I had spent time with there. I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to take part in this trip. The experiences I had and the impact it has made on me are something I am confident can only come once in a lifetime. With the help of the United Religions Initiative, I will forever remember World Interfaith Harmony Week in reference to the lasting relationships I created, and the meaningful lessons I learned while there.

Now, more than ever, I am committed to working towards a more inclusive, global, and understanding society. These are values I believe in, and thanks to organizations, such as URI and the United Nations, those values have a chance towards changing many more lives, just as they have my own. In the end, I am confident that we are all better together and I know that together, it is truly possible for peace to prevail on earth.

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Read reflections from other trip participants here and here.