Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but this is no joke – 9 young people and their leaders from all four religious groups are meeting together over a meal. These people are supposed to be enemies, they are supposed to be so suspicious of each other that this can’t work – but it is.
The Feast is a model of interfaith dialogue for young people. Originally from the UK, it is being trialed here in Beirut, and from what I can see from the genuine friendships between the young men and women around me – there are no barriers here. Two young women, one Evangelical and one Shiite are having a discussion about the different head coverings worn by the two young Shiite women. Patiently and with passion the Shiite is explaining the differences and the part that fashion plays in her selection for tonight. At the same time a Maronite and a Sunni are comparing notes from a lecture on Middle Eastern politics they had earlier today.
These 9 represent 24 other young people, between the ages of 15 – 19, who have been meeting for a couple of months now. They meet over a meal, but not just to eat – although one of the young men assures me (with a wry smile) that’s the important part. They meet to share their lives and to talk about their faith. There are strict guidelines for their engagement, but Ali tells me they are ‘just common sense and decency’.
One of the objectives of The Feast is all members working together toward a common project. At the moment this group is discussing what that will be, but they are thinking about helping a local orphanage or maybe doing something for Syrian refugee children.
This type of dialogue and bridge building is essential. It is one of the best hopes we have for peace and stability in this region, and wider. Imagine if instead of suspicion and hatred there was understanding, respect and celebration. The young people I had dinner with are proof that it can work.