Before the beginning of the pandemic and after more than a decade of life for the JPII Center, the desire to organize regional gatherings for JPII Leaders in the different continents led our team to start dreaming in that direction.
The pandemic froze those plans for two years but in March 2022 the first regional group of JPII Leaders from North America was able to meet in person in New York. From March 3th to 6th, 11 alumni of the JPII Center who completed the Russell Berrie Fellowship over the past 10 years gathered, got to meet each other for the first time or had the chance to see each other after one or more years, networked and deepened their connections, and more importantly, took the time to look ahead and dream about future projects.
The regional gathering was the result of a fully JPII Leader-led initiative thanks to the commitment of an organizing committee chaired by Allyson Zacharoff (Cohort VI) who was supported by Elyse Brazel (Cohort VIII), Matthew Doeing (Cohort VIII) and Peter Dziedzic (Cohort VI).
“ I have often found at interfaith conferences that the most meaningful interactions occur outside of the formal sessions—walking from one activity to another, over lunch. What is funny is that we didn’t explicitly plan for that informal time when we planned this regional reunion but, as usual, those good and deep connections happened. It made me incredibly happy when our formal days together would end, and smaller groups of participants would decide to spend more time together, ” shared Allyson echoing the feeling of the whole group who enjoyed a carefully drafted program over three days.
The group met with people representing other relevant players in the field of interreligious dialogue such as the Tanenbaum Center, the Interfaith Center of New York and Interfaith Youth Core, thus learning more about their approach and inspiring activities. Most of their time was devoted to internal networking: each JPII Leader presented his/her own current involvement in dialogue and for that occasion the group was joined by the leadership of The Russell Berrie Foundation and the Institute of International Education.
“It was exciting and inspiring to hear how many good and transformative experiences are supported and developed by our JPII Leaders Network members in North America once they complete the Fellowship and go back to their communities and country,” said Elena Dini, Senior Program Manager at the JPII Center.
The incredible richness of the group was enhanced by the diversity of paths and careers of the JPII Leaders: from those who took a teaching position in the field, to those who are working within institutions and organizations supporting dialogue; from those who work at the grassroots level and in their communities to foster dialogue to those who created specific interfaith projects such as conferences or podcasts. That prepared the stage for deeper exchanges and to see how regionally JPII Leaders could possibly collaborate on joint projects.
Everyone enjoyed the chance as well to attend each other’s religious services: the group attended both the Friday night Shabbat service at Central Synagogue and the Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A cultural program was offered as well with the Broadway musical Come From Away, which tells the story of a group of travelers stranded in Newfoundland, Canada during the disruption of air traffic in the days following 9/11, with an interesting interfaith component.
The North American JPII Leader gathering was the first of the regional reunions that the JPII Center will sponsor around the world.