The GNRC’s Second Inter-religious Colloquium for young people was held in Brussels November 23-25, 2007, and addressed the theme, "Consumerist Society: Challenges to our Religious Faith." The meeting, organized by Ana Maria Serrano, the contact person for GNRC Belgium, in collaboration with Marta Palma, Coordinator for GNRC Europe, brought together 32 participants from three religious communities: Christian, Muslim and Bahá’í. The main objectives were to consolidate the network and to reflect, from the ethical and spiritual perspectives, on one of the main problems that affects young people in Europe today: excessive consumerism and the negative values and alienating consequences associated with it.
The dynamic of the meeting included three interactive workshops that gave the young people opportunities to express their own opinions and share their experiences. The workshops were facilitated by: Jacqueline Delcorps and Veronique Demaude, Christians; Souha Boufaied and Jalel Boufaied, Muslims; and Samantha Joulain and Shamin Beyraghi, Bahá’ís.
After the workshops and the plenary discussions, the young people prepared their own statement, which includes their views about the growing inequalities in consumerist societies and their practical commitments to work for a society that accords real value to all living creatures and to the environment. Values such as moderation, justice, simplicity, renunciation of material riches, and awareness were mentioned during the discussions.
Professor Christian Arnsperger, Specialist in Economic and Social Ethics from the Catholic University of Leuven, explained the mechanisms within the market economy that artificially create compulsive desires that are not in harmony with the real needs of human beings. At the same time, it gives us the false impression that we are free to chose and decide. The "free-market" economy also creates a growing gap between the rich and the poor. He underlined the spiritual dimension of the problem by saying, among other things, that very deep inside us there is a powerful human energy or dynamism that can be mobilized for selfish purposes or for positive changes. He mentioned the need aleways to return to reflection on what it means to be human and how we can develop our capacity to discern what is best according to our values.
During the colloquium, Marta Palma conveyed the greetings and appreciation of Rev. Takeyasu Miyamoto, President of the Arigatou Foundation, to Ana Maria Serrano, the facilitators, and all the participants. She also shared information about the GNRC Third Forum that will take place in Hiroshima, Japan, in May 2008. The participants from this country will bring the reflections and contributions of the GNRC Belgium to Hiroshima.
The meeting ended with a time of sharing and prayer through which the group renewed their commitment to continue their inter-religious work for the well-being of children. The GNRC Belgium will host a Training Workshop on the Toolkit for Ethics Education for Belgium and France in January 2008. This workshop will be organized in collaboration with the Interfaith Council on Ethics Education for Children.