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By Elías González Gómez, Mexico
A few months ago I applied for the Young Adults scholarship that NAIN offers to young people who are involved in the interfaith movement in North America. NAIN members had attended the Second Universal Multicultural Dialogue (DMU in Spanish) in my native city, Guadalajara, Mexico. Hearing about their experiences and their way of working, I could not help but fall in love with the idea of going to Regina, Canada, and benefitting from their many years of knowledge. Desire and hope became a possibility when I got an e-mail that made me leap for joy: I had been accepted for the Young Adults program to assist with this year’s NAIN “Connect” conference. But every journey comes with complications, and in my it case turned out to be a lot of work.
If you are a Mexican, it is not easy to attend events of this kind. A Canadian visa means dealing with a lot of paperwork and legal matters. “This cannot stop me,” I said to myself. Against all odds, and with a very little time left, I secured a visa and found the cheapest flight possible. The trip was very tiring – spending eight hours at the Los Angeles airport is no fun – but I found comfort in imagining what would await me. I finally landed in Regina, the Queen City. Donna was waiting for me with a sign saying “NAIN Connect”. It was a wonderful feeling to finally meet the person who was waiting for you. My anxiety about the trip disappeared when I laid down on the bed that had been prepared for me with so much kindness. Hospitality is indeed a feature of divinity.
The first thing I noticed when I woke up for the first time in Canada was that the days were longer: the sun rose at 6:00 a.m. and set at about 9:00 p.m. The sunrise and sunset are a perfect metaphor for what I was about to experience which, like the always present sun, was enlightening. On Saturday, the day before the event officially began, I met the other young adults who had received a scholarship as well. Being asked “Where are you from? What do you do? What is your spiritual tradition?” I answered: “I am Elías González, from Guadalajara, Mexico. I am studying Philosophy and Social Science, and I am part of Carpe Diem Interfaith. I define myself as an interfaith Christian.” Many other young adults had come from the United States, including Arizona, Washington, Salt Lake City, New York, California, and two people who now lived in the States (one was from El Salvador, the other from Great Britain). There were also several Canadians, from Regina, Toronto, and Edmonton – but only one Mexican; clearly, there is still some work to be done. Little by little, we began to get to know each other through music, food, costume, and dance; nothing better than a party to open the heart! The first day ended with a lot of enthusiasm as well as many expectations for the coming four days.
“I wear the hijab because I want to, not because I am oppressed.” The strong voice of the Muslim woman was like a dagger going through the flesh of western liberalism, a skin that thinks of itself as perfect. “In history there have been some examples of societies where sex was NOT the most important issue, so why should we have to rule ourselves around sexual criteria? Why be governed by secularists’ criteria?”
If I had to choose a spiritual tradition that really touched me during the NAIN event, it was that of the Muslim community - especially their women. “They look at us and think that we are oppressed and they want to save us, but they don’t see that our clothes are a sign of resistance and represents an option!” The voices of these women continue to stay with me, wise words coming from an authentic spirituality shaped by a lot of battles.
Expectations are the biggest enemy of interfaith dialogue. The best we can do is to sanctify the ceremonial space where the dialogue is taking place. A beautiful, authentic inter-religious meeting occurred spontaneously in one of Luther College’s hallways. The spectrum of colours present was nothing compared to the diversity of traditions and ways of thinking that converged at that moment: a Canadian historian with huge scholarly knowledge; a Buddhist monk from Bangladesh with a contagious laugh; and a Mexican Christian who did not speak English very well. The three of us were sitting with a rabbi from London who was teaching us Hebrew, quoting the Torah. The experience of sharing was extremely enriching. “Shalom doesn’t mean peace. Peace comes from the roman concept of pax, which indicates some kind of tolerance status. Shalom means fullness, transcendence. When someone says Shalom to you, [that person] is wishing you not the conflict-free definition, but fullness in your whole life.”
So, where is NAIN in this large but still unfinished scene? NAIN, in my opinion, holds the perfect balance between ambitiousness and austerity. NAIN does not dream about worldwide events and focus only on local initiatives. NAIN is looking to make a difference on the entire continent. NAIN’s two pillars are vital: 1) providing interfaith associations and activists with a network, so they can get to know each other and share ideas and experiences; and 2) educating young adult activists who are interested in interreligious dialogue.
“The best teaching for the interfaith dialogue is to know how to receive the Mystery from our own and humble ignorance.” Those words were the only ones that I could say during the Young Adults panel when I was asked how we can “Restore Spirit through Sacred Listening”. I treasure this and so much more. My spirit has been restored; I have made very good friends and can feel their presence when I think about interreligious dialogue. I feel compelled to continue on this path because this path has a heart.
What was my favourite NAIN moment in Regina? When Carpe Diem Interfaith’s proposal to host NAIN “Connect” next year was accepted. This will be the first time that a NAIN “Connect” conference will be hosted in Mexico and thus makes it a true North American endeavour. Thank you Regina, and see you at NAIN “Connect” in Guadalajara 2016!
Elías González Gómez's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.