The possibility to live in unity
A summer course in Italy with Shiites and Christians
By Donata Ling
“Are you ready to listen?”
I was struck by this question. It left me thinking and reflecting after I heard it.
It was posed not only to me but to all of us. We were a group of young students with various academic and work backgrounds who had come together for a summer study program in Trent, Italy, called Wings of Unity, in collaboration with the Sophia University Institute in Italy and the Islamic Center of England.
It had an interreligious profile, with the presence of Shiite and Christian students, the result of a 20-year friendship journey undertaken by Shiite Muslims and Catholics within the context of the Focolare Movement’s spirituality of communion. We were there to learn from one another and experience what it means to live for unity and in unity today.
Rita Moussalem and Roberto Catalano, co-directors of the Focolare’s Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Piero Coda, President of Sophia University Institute, and Mohammad Ali Shomali, Director of the International Institute of Islamic Studies in Qum, Iran, had developed the idea of creating a common academic research project with concrete works, which was named Wings of Unity. The core of this initiative is based on the quest for unity in God, with a focus on the perception of God in the two traditions, and in this light, on the possibility of building a true spirit of brotherhood.
The participants came from many different countries and ethnicities, but what characterized our group most was that we were from different religions — half of us Christian and the other half Muslim. I had been preparing most of the year to participate in this program, because I believed that it is very important to experience and witness peace, dialogue and unity with people of other religious convictions.
Then in one of the lectures, Piero Coda asked this question: “Are you ready to listen?”
This question was asked of us in order to better understand the plan of God for humanity and for each one of us. On a personal level, it is easy to get caught up in the daily tasks and busyness of the day. However, this question gave me the time to reflect on my personal commitment to unity. I understood first that it must start from me.
One of the moments that gave me the opportunity to do so was when we took a hiking trip in the Dolomite mountains. At a certain moment of the trip, most people had gone ahead, and I was with one of the Muslim sisters who was walking very slowly up the mountain. Usually I would be someone who likes to walk very fast and be one of the first to go up the mountain. However, I chose to walk alongside her. When she got frightened by the height of the mountain, I gave her my arm to lean on. This was a very simple gesture; however, it helped me understand that building unity starts with my personal journey of “listening” to the person next to me. This meant that I had to let go of what I wanted in those moments, to be present for the other person.
This gives me the possibility to live in unity. When I came back from this trip, I shared this experience at school, with family and even with someone I had met for the first time. This person was impressed because she thought that unity and dialogue are not possible. After this experience, it confirms my belief that unity and dialogue are possible when it starts from a personal commitment and our everyday choices.