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Georgetown Hosts President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses the participants in The President's Interfaith and Community Service Challenge.

September 25, 2013 – More than 400 participants from over 130 universities and faith organizations tackled such pressing issues as education, domestic poverty and human trafficking at a two-day Georgetown conference Sept. 23-24 on the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge.

They also explored the Doyle Engaging Difference Program as a model for how to engage interreligious and intercultural diversity in the curriculum.

U.S Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave closing remarks at the conference.

The President’s Challenge, run by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the U.S. Department of Education, challenges schools to promote interfaith dialogue and community service on their campuses.

Committed to Dialogue

“At our core we are committed to dialogue and to engagement with one another,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, who welcomed participants to campus. “Together as communities of teachers and learners we … work through our questions, our challenges and our disagreements.

“…We come to this from different faiths, different traditions,” he added. “But we come together, and converge, in this common pursuit.”

Melissa Rogers, head of the White House office, said the purpose of the President’s Challenge is to “create opportunities for community service and dialogue across religious lines.”

“The White House is very proud about this effort and what it says about our country,” she said.

A Single Bond

The conference has allowed me to realize that we are all bound together by a single bond, under a single light – together, as a community, as a university, as a nation, we can promote the interfaith dialogue and community service that is needed in this country.

Sohayle Sizar (C’14)

Georgetown student Sohayle Sizar (C’14) said the conference gave him a chance to hear about the kinds of community service and interfaith dialogue other schools are doing.

“It is inspiring to know that a wide variety of colleges believe in the infinite worth of every individual – engaging and participating to better the communities in which they reside,” said Sizar, who founded a literacy initiative at Georgetown called Bring on the Books. “The conference has allowed me to realize that we are all bound together by a single bond, under a single light – together, as a community, as a university, as a nation, we can promote the interfaith dialogue and community service that is needed in this country.”

The Georgetown delegation included eight students who have been active in interfaith and community service work throughout their time on campus.

“Georgetown's participation in the [President’s] Challenge is the culmination of the strong tradition of interfaith work that we as a university pursue based on our Catholic identity,” said Kieran Holloran (SFS’14). “Georgetown's leadership in interfaith service work across the country is something that I have come to be proud of and am happy to be a part of. It is great to be able to share all of the success we as a university have had joining together as an interfaith community in the service of others.”

Another member of the Georgetown delegation, Aamir Hussain (C’14), said through the President’s Challenge he’s “gained a deeper respect for American diversity, Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage, and my Muslim culture by working with other faith and non-faith communities on my campus.”

Common Ground

Faculty and staff from the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, Campus Ministry and the Center for Social Justice were also an active part of the Georgetown delegation.

“One of the ways that religious traditions find common ground is our shared commitment to social justice and to service,” said Kevin O'Brien, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry. “The conference demonstrated how young people in particular are leading efforts to meet on this common ground, where understanding and conversation across differences takes place.”

O’Brien moderated a panel on how colleges work with faith-based partners in the local community.

“From small colleges to universities, from urban to rural, we learned best practices from one another and left feeling like we are part of a much larger network of people committed to the convergence of faith, learning, and justice,” he said.

Every Single Day

Georgetown has taken part in multiple service work and interfaith reflection opportunities since the start of the Challenge in 2011, including a 25 Days of Service Initiative, partnering with Syracuse University to collect food for the homeless, and working in Washington on numerous service projects.

Student groups also run frequent interfaith dialogues and roundtable discussions.

Duncan praised the work that students, faculty and staff from around the country have done over the last three years in his address. He said more than 152 million hours of service have been recorded since the program began.

“What you’ve done every single day…you’re helping lead the country where we need to go,” he said.

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