Among the one and a half million Catholic youth gathered in Lisbon for the World Youth Day, the presence of people of other faiths did not go unnoticed. On the street, our JPII Leader Venerable Ashin Mandalarlankara (Cohort XV, Myanmar) was stopped by young people asking him which community he belonged to.

The Lisbon-based International Dialogue Centre KAICIID brought together a group of members from various religious communities and geographical backgrounds to offer an interfaith presence during World Youth Day through a number of events open to the young people crowding the Portuguese streets. Among them two of our JPII Leaders.

On Tuesday, August 1, a panel on youth and interreligious dialogue was held at the Belem Cultural Centre, opposite the City of Joy. Among the speakers the Senior Program Manager of the JPII Center, Elena Dini, and JPII Leader Ashin Mandalarlankara who addressed a group of more than 100 young people interested in dialogue and shared their experience.

On Thursday and Friday, August 3-4, JPII Leaders with other interfaith leaders facilitated the DIALOGO board game with groups of young people who came and enjoyed the chance of delving into dialogue issues in a fun way.

The highlight was for sure the private meeting with Pope Francis who arrived in Lisbon to join the million and a half young Catholics gathered there and took the time for some meetings before then. JPII Leader Mandalarlankara was in the small  group of interreligious leaders facilitated by KAICIID who met Pope Francis.

Looking at the young people gathered in Lisbon, monk Ashin Mandarlarlankara comments: “The Buddhist youth in my country have no leader and no vision. And our young Catholics could not attend because of difficulties in obtaining visas due to the political crisis in Myanmar”. These days were a great opportunity for him: besides the private meeting with the Holy Father on Friday, “walking the streets dressed as a monk but with the WYD badge- he concludes – made the young people feel that I was one of them and yet I was different. And this was a great opportunity, for me and for them”.  

With a grant from the JPII Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Vladimer Narsia, JPII Center Leader from Cohort XIV, hopes to bring attention to the long history of Jewish-Christian relations in Georgia. The mission of this project is “to promote the richness of Jewish-Christian relations from its outset up to the present time and magnify the role of Jewish people in the history of Christianity.” 

Vladimer Narsia (Georgia), JPII Leader (Cohort XIV)

Specifically, Vladimer’s project focuses on the revered St. Sidonia, a first-century Jewish woman consecrated as a saint in the Georgian Orthodox Church. “Sidonia was a Jew, but the Georgian Orthodox Church consecrated her as a Saint,” explains Vladimer. “So, Sidonia is a Christian, in terms of her religion, but ethnically a Jew.” 

The Georgian Chronicles, also known as The Georgian Royal Annals, state that St. Sidonia was a founder of Swetickhoveli, one of Georgia’s most ancient churches. Vladimer says that this cathedral is one of “the most venerated and holy places in Georgia” because it is recognized by the Georgian Chronicles as “the burial site of Christ’s robe.” 

Vladimer began the implementation of this project at the beginning of October and shares that it is going well. The first of Vladimer’s public lectures around St. Sidonia and the ancient roots of Jewish-Christian relations in Georgia was given to a group of students this fall. Having graduated this spring with a Diploma in Interreligious Dialogue from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy, where Vladimer was a Russell Berrie Fellow, this lecture also addressed contemporary interreligious dialogue issues within the context of Georgia and beyond.

Vladimer at the Museum of the History of the Georgian Jews in Tbilisi

Vladimer will also collaborate with the Museum of the History of the Georgian Jews, based in Tbilisi. At the conclusion of this project in the spring of next year, he will offer a presentation on Jewish-Christian relations in Georgia and share his project on St. Sidonia. By this point, Vladimer also aims to create a bilingual brochure, in Georgian and English, and create an animated movie clip to further present this important history to the world.

This project was made possible through the support of a JPII Leaders Grant offered by the JPII Center for Interreligious Dialogue.