Swap: When Diversity Becomes a Treasure
Davide Perillo, Director of the monthly magazine Tracce (published in English as Traces), introduced the session titled “University and education to Freedom: the Experience of the Share With All People (SWAP) Group” held this afternoon in Sala Neri, with these words: “Often times, apparently small events happen in marginal places, which carry within themselves the power to change things.”
At the heart of the session, depicting the lived experience recounted by a group of students at the Catholic University of Milan, was an issue of pressing importance: intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. The speakers were Wael Farouq, Visiting Professor of Arabic Language at the Catholic University of Milan, and Mario Gatti, Site Director of the Catholic University of Milan, who were preceded by witnesses from some students from the SWAP Group.
It all began with a number of Egyptian students attending Arabic Language classes. From within this group emerged the desire to recount, through an exhibit, the extraordinary phenomenon of the Arab Spring and the revolution in Tahrir Square. “Our attempt,” says Mina, of Egyptian descent but born in Italy, “springs forth from our desire to describe the revolution within the revolution which occurred during that period: the beauty of the coexistence between Christians and Muslims. This is such an important fact, considering especially the recent words pronounced by Pope Francis, who warned us about the possibility of a third World War, due to ideological and religious divisions.”
Divisions and differences which, instead, represent a treasure for the SWAP group students, as Monica recalled: “the exhibit we took to the Rimini Meeting, titled ‘Egypt, when Values Become Alive’ would have never existed if we were three different groups (one of Muslims, one of Copts and one of Christians). Instead, such an exhibit is the result of our three different identities: our diversity is precisely what united us.”
According to Mario Gatti, their experience helped debunk several myths around the students life at university, which is multi-cultural and inter-religious: “First of all, we realized that our classes were attended by many Muslim students, but we didn’t know it. Their request to organize an exhibit on such a difficult theme reminded us that not only are we a place of formation and education, but we also are a place for growth where everybody can live one’s responsibility without denying one’s identity and belonging. […] SWAP denounced the stereotypes of an intercultural dialogue always conceived as a debate around ideas, ideologies and cultures and brought it back to its human value. From this consideration, a journey proposed to the whole student body was born”.
However, at the origin of such amazing experience, there is also the activity of a professor, Wael Farouq. “True pluralism is not just an integration process, but a continuous interaction. These students demonstrate that peace and love are not just good ideals, but rather concrete facts, when they are realized by our will. The SWAP students, likewise the ones of the Arab Spring, are not ideological, but are simply moved by a desire for dialogue and comparison. They are simply looking for truth within themselves and others. They recount this very well in their exhibit, where we cannot find stories of any VIPs. We can only find stories like the one of Gifka, a young Copt killed in Tahrir Square. Of very humble origins, he used to befriend everybody, he used to smile at everybody, whether they were Muslims or Marxists. He became a hero for all of them.”
In summary, what moves history ahead, as Mario Gatti recalled, “is the search of one’s truth,” and then quoted a recent question asked to each one of us by the Pope: “What are you looking for?” He too is seeking an answer: that new experiences like that of SWAP be born.