Finding Our Place Conference: Building Social Cohesion in the Midst of Diversity and Migration (2003)

Purpose and Methods

This week-long conference brought together teams of people from selected cities around the globe. The Partner City project is an endeavor by the Council for the Parliament of World Religions to stimulate interfaith work around the globe by developing diverse teams working together in cities and a network of these cities. This conference, the second of such Goldin Institute events is designed to build capacity and offer a wealth of networking opportunities. The methodology of the conference is based upon listening, first to immigrants and second to host communities, so that participants broaden their frame of reference. Spirituality is incorporated into the week by scheduling an hour from 8-9 a.m. every day for private or group meditation or worship. Groups also have the opportunity to present to their peers about their projects, but the initial focus is on listening. The intention here is to stimulate skills and perspectives necessary to broaden and deepen the scope of projects.

Manresa, Spain

The conference was intentionally held in Manresa, Spain, which is a small city that has been profoundly affected by recent immigration. About 5,000 immigrants have arrived in this town of 55,000 to 60,000 in the past three years. The Council for the Parliament of World Religions (CPWR) will hold their global conference in July of 2004 in nearby Barcelona, and working locally in advance of the conference is part of their renewed strategy to increase the lasting impact of the conference. Disappointed by the lack of integration into the city at their last parliament (Capetown, 1999) they have required more partnership from Barcelona, including a $500,000 commitment to fund post-conference work. CPWR has provided funds for preliminary work to seed the process well in advance of the 2004 Parliament.

Immigrants

Immigrants speaking at the Institute included Grace from Ecuador, Rahim (a Muslim gentlemen from southern Morocco), Faisal from Northern Morocco, a Jewish man from Argentina and Israel, and a Sikh from the Punjab. Personal stories of what they had left behind and their motivations and difficulties in immigrating brought forth discussion of economic factors as well as questions about personal responsibilities for home countries. Most reported being able to continue the practice of their religion without hindrance, although the mosque here has no particular distinguishing characteristics,and historically some Sikhs have found it necessary to drop some of the outward signs of their faith.

Detailed Report

Elder Don Frew, a Wiccan representing the Covenant of the Goddess and part of the San Francisco interfaith group, wrote a detailed report of his experience of the gathering. It is available on the United Religions Initiative website. [Editor’s note 2016: Frew’s report is no longer available online.]