Disproving Lofty Notions
Sophomore Jessica Annonio redefines her interpretation of the word “interfaith.”
The last morning of the Fall Break Interfaith Trip, I became a conglomeration of paradoxes. I was exhausted and invigorated from a weekend of sprinting from one activity to the next. I was simultaneously engaged and analytical of the houses of worship we visited, the individuals we encountered, and the service projects we performed. Yet I was left wondering what the purpose of our weekend was. Prior to this trip, I theoretically knew the importance of interfaith cooperation—to promote tolerance across faith traditions—and I had hoped that this trip would provide some clarity to my confusion.
Then we went to CIFA, the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, to learn more about the intersection of faith and politics. CIFA is a non-profit international government organization whose purpose is to bring together religious leaders and their followers within the same African nation for the good of the community. One of CIFA’s original initiatives involves coordinating Christian and Islamic leaders in Nigeria to encourage their followers to use bed nets properly as the family sleeps to so as to prevent the spread of malaria; they are seeing remarkable success rates within this program. In addition, they are empowering women in rural Africa to become educated and equal with the men in the region. Plus they are coordinating several additional initiatives. The most incredible part? They have only been in existence for three years.
As soon as we rang the doorbell to their office located within the National Cathedral, I knew this was going to be an entirely different experience from the rest of the trip. A staff member shepherded us into the upper recesses of the cathedral, and we arrived in a rearranged conference room to a warm reception of snacks and drinks. Another staff member greeted us and invited us to make ourselves comfortable as he finished setting up the presentation. Once it commenced, it was clear that he had put hours of careful preparation prior to our arrival. Halfway through a third staff member took over and finished the perfectly planned presentation. As it concluded, the remaining staff we had not yet met arrived, and we had the chance to ask any and every question we could think of for the next half hour. Through all of this, the team remained energized, upbeat, and well organized. In every response they gave it was clear that the entire staff is passionate about their work, and that they all strongly desired to be working for CIFA. Some were fresh out of college, some had given up corporate jobs, and others came out of retirement for this organization, and no one regretted their decision.
In my experience, the word “interfaith” comes with this lofty, abstract, and pretentious reputation. During this past summer when I said that I was gaining a greater interest in “interfaith action,” my family and friends would indicate with their quizzical looks that they needed a better explanation of exactly what I meant. Sometimes the search for a clear definition of interfaith is not much better because it includes other elusive words. It is hard to put a tangible definition on this abstract concept, let alone figure out how it could be applied to real life. But this is exactly what CIFA did. They managed to take this lofty and pretentious word and give it tangible, concrete meaning and get others to invest in their ideas over three short years. My experience at CIFA dissipated my sense of confusion and provided that sense of purpose I needed to obtain before the conclusion of this trip. It gave me a tangible result of what the passion of a few individuals could do within today’s globalized society. Finally, CIFA transformed my previous misconceptions of the lofty, abstract, and pretentious adjective “interfaith” into a tangible noun that is now accompanied by CIFA’s stories of working for the common good.