Acting beyond borders
Genfest 2018 inspired young people worldwide to strengthen their commitment to overcome boundaries
By Clara Ramirez
Last summer, the busy streets of Manila were flooded by a special wave of joy and enthusiasm. More than 6,000 young adults from every corner of the world gathered in the Philippines for the Genfest, the international youth festival promoted by the Youth for a United World (Y4UW) of the Focolare.
“Beyond all borders” was the theme chosen by the youth themselves. It reflected their desire to respond to Pope Francis’ appeal “to go outwards” and to promote a culture of peace by overcoming personal limits and social divisions. It was also a driving force that invited every participant to go beyond the limits that keep people from seeing each other as brothers and sisters.
More than a phrase, “beyond all borders” represents a lifestyle that young people choose as opposed to the more individualistic and self-absorbed cultures engrained in today’s world. However, stepping out of our comfort zone to welcome others is easier said than done, and it requires a commitment to transform what could be mere abstract ideas into real actions.
In fact, in a time in which conflicts all over the world overshadow any effort to build peace and create relationships based on trust, it has become more crucial than ever to be protagonists and propose positive actions that heal the deep divisions among peoples, countries, religions and individuals.
Rolling up their sleeves
“Hands for Humanity” was the opportunity to experience firsthand how to go beyond boundaries. As part of the Genfest program, all participants went to the outskirts of Manila to “give a hand” in community service projects. They rolled up their sleeves and worked in marginalized neighborhoods, in “urban beautification projects” and food programs for children. They also had the chance to clean up one of the beaches in Manila Bay, and engage in interreligious dialogue with Buddhist and Muslim groups that are present in the city.
The conviction of overcoming boundaries to build a united world was also conveyed in multiple ways during the program at the World Trade Center in Manila. Through songs, dances and choreographies, young people from different nationalities expressed the challenges and triumphs they’ve experienced in their daily lives when trying to go beyond borders. They also shared testimonies of how they became catalysts of change in their own communities around the world.
For instance, Josef Capacio from San Diego, California, and Noé Herrera from Mexicali, Mexico — representing the two cities on opposite sides of the U.S.-Mexican border — shared their experience living in border cities. They have spearheaded events which gathered people from both countries to promote peace along the wall that separates the two nations. They told how their friendship has helped them to recognize what unites them instead of what divides them.
Noé said that working together with other young people from the U.S. has allowed him “to discover that our values, goals and vision of the world are very similar. This experience made me realize that we are all equal and I can love his country as I love mine.”
Likewise, some youth from Spain shared their experience of dialogue during the political crisis after the Catalan independence referendum of 2017. The tensions lived in the country affected the relationships among family and friends. Some members of Y4UW who belong to different political parties also had strong confrontations.
They decided to heal the wounds that the crisis created among them by engaging in positive dialogues where each one committed to deeply listen to one another. They realized that they had held assumptions and fixed views about each other that brought them to judge one another without comprehending the significance of the other’s point of view. Little by little other people joined them in this effort to find common ground in such a difficult political situation.
All these life-experiences touched the heart of every participant as they showed that it is feasible to overcome divisions regardless of age, culture, religion or social backgrounds. Every testimony responded to the daring invitation that Focolare founder Chiara Lubich launched to the Youth for a United World at the first Genfest — in 1973.
As expressed by Maria Voce, president of the Focolare, during her speech at the World Trade Center, “Chiara challenged you to be men and women of unity, people who know how to carry in their hearts the specific treasures of each culture and give them to others: to be global men and women.”
Going beyond cultures and generations
One of the novelties of this 11th edition of the Genfest was that it was held for the first time outside Europe. The location opened new doors to reach out to young people from Asian countries, and favored the participation of youth from Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim groups in contact with the Focolare in that continent. Moreover, Asia is the continent with the largest young population on earth that is home for more than 60 percent of the world’s youth. It is also a continent characterized by rapid technological development, while at the same time is lacerated by extreme poverty and social contrasts.
This multicultural and interreligious framework offered multiple possibilities to learn about different cultures. Michael Grueter, a Y4UW member from Boston, said that the interaction with people of different ages, nationalities and backgrounds has enriched him and opened his heart to the world.
The impact of the Genfest went beyond the walls of the World Trade Center, thanks to digital media and the collaboration of more than 70 young professionals in different communication fields who volunteered their time and skills to have a strong presence on social media. The content produced during the Genfest attracted the attention of local media in the Philippines, generating public opinion regarding the important meaning of welcoming differences rather than rejecting them.
The Genfest also highlighted the value of intergenerational interactions. According to Ray Asprer, a representative of the Genfest organizing team, the involvement of all the members of the Focolare in the Philippines was necessary to put on the event. It entailed accompanying young people on a journey that emphasized not only their role as leaders, but also their interaction with older generations who offered them resources and professional expertise.
In this respect, the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment taking place this October in the Vatican, emphasizes the need for young people to feel they are protagonists and, at the same time, be supported by adults. As the synod preparatory document states, it is important to “work together in real projects which measure the young people’s ability to get results, of exercising leadership directed to improving the environment in which they live.”
As many young people expressed afterwards, the Genfest rekindled their passion to be at the forefront of change in society, using their own talents and expertise. In reality, the Genfest is only the beginning of a journey that continues with concrete actions at local and international levels.
“We are seeing a lot of changes in the way the youth of the Focolare want to build a united world,” says Michael. “There is a lot more interest to offer a contribution in a more competent way within international institutions and professional fields. At the same time, there is an interest in transforming our own environment through volunteer programs around the world. We really want to make a change as opposed to just being passive spectators.”
Be protagonists of change and take the risk to go beyond: this was the message that every young person brought home. In the words of Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, “Go and continue crossing borders of hatred, persecution and war, because beyond each border someone is waiting for you.”
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