The journey of Women of Faith for Peace: can you imagine 8 women, leaders in 5 religious communities between Israel and Palestine, going from being enemies to becoming sisters? Yet it has been happening for 12 years. Women of Faith for Peace exists to break down the walls of prejudice and to find new ways of building real dialogue in everyday life, in areas of conflict as well as in countries experiencing tense situations. Now the group is open to the 5 continents to spread an extraordinary experience.
The beginning of Women of Faith for Peace
It all begins in the cold autumn of 2009. After so many years of walking and building bridges of dialogue with the Religion Today film festival, I realize that I can no longer invent anything to help overcome the conflict in the Middle East. I think then that we have to move from cinema to women: it is we who introduce children to life, who teach them their first words, which can be words of love or hate. It is we who generate, and we who must “generate peace”.
No sooner said than done, I call my dear friend and sister, the Orthodox Jewish cinema distributor in Jerusalem, Hedva Goldschmidt, and ask her: “Can you bring together the women leaders of the different religions in Jerusalem?” She takes me for a fool, but she starts to work and so the first exploratory meeting takes place on her terrace with Adina Bar Shalom, Faten Zenati, Nuha Farran, Besema Halabi and Suha Ibrahim.
After a year of preparation, the first meeting is held in Trento from 16 to 21 March 2010: a springtime of hope, entitled “Workshop Middle East”. In addition to the extended group of women, internationally renowned artists such as the singer Idan Raichel, and the peace builders Sheik Bukhari with Father Paolo Dall’Oglio are present. It is an extraordinary experience, we see walls and prejudices fall, we feel the strength of coexistence.
A few months later, in November 2010, an Italian delegation travels to Jerusalem to give strength to the project. Marianna Beltrami, is also part of the group.
The work proceeds at a distance for months. Then, from 15 to 20 May 2012, we manage to spend another week together in Trento, initiating new stimuli with new participants. Faten says to the microphone: “Tehila was my enemy: Jewish, also Orthodox, a colonist… On the last night we chose to share a room, to be closer, Jewish and Muslim, to become sisters”.
From words to deeds, concrete actions to create change
Upon returning to their communities, something begins to change, concrete projects are initiated. A group of ultra-Orthodox Haredi women, led by Adina Bar Shalom, participates in a conflict resolution course and meets Palestinian women. In Lod, Faten, a Muslim, and Tehila, an Orthodox Jew, sit up a multi-ethnic social centre, which is still fully functional. Basema, a Druze woman, on Mount Carmel contributes to the first museum and centre for Druze identity in the spirit of dialogue. New cooperative projects for Bedouin women are launched.
Dialogue starts at home
In November 2012, the women, in the presence of an Italian delegation, meet the mayor of Jerusalem, Nik Barkat. In 2013, filmmaker Gilad Goldschmidt makes the documentary “A Possible Dialogue” about the group’s beginnings.
On 31 March 2014, the first public meeting in Jerusalem takes place: we go to The Jerusalem Cinemateque. The initiative is an important moment to present the journey of Women of Faith for Peace and to think together about new paths towards horizons of peace. On this occasion Aurora Vision is making the documentary film “Jerusalem: Dreams and Reality”. Also present at the meeting are the journalist Maria Cecilia Sangiorgi and the Italian Ambassador to Israel, His Excellency Francesco Maria Talò, who will introduce the film. Also, with the initial group is Gilli Mendel, a leading woman in world cinema.
Opening up to the world
Also in 2014 we visit the World Food Program and the president, Ambassador Evelyn Stokes Hayford becomes our godmother. I travel to Kosovo several times to promote the initiative with women leaders from the five minorities.
In August 2014 Marianna and I fly to Colombia, to Fusagasuga, to present “Jerusalem: Dreams and Reality” at the Ficfusa Film Festival. With Natalia Herrera, we talk to people on the front line of rebuilding the thin thread of hope in lands torn apart by conflict. Hedva and Nuha are the protagonists of a long interview in the weekly magazine F and share the same words of peace.
8-15 October 2015: intense week in Italy, with new young people joining from Africa and Latin America. Public meetings are held in Bolzano, Trento and Rome at the LUISS University with the Sinderesi Foundation and Mons. Samuele Sangalli. A few minutes before the public meeting in Trento, a clash takes place in Jerusalem involving two thirteen-year-old boys, one Jewish and one Muslim. The climate of tension rises. Faten and Hedva decide to issue a joint declaration calling for peace. Their peace photo goes viral on social networks.
We return to Rome, to LUISS, on 14 April 2016 where we animate the conference “Women of Faith for an Inclusive World”. In addition to the original group there is the Palestinian singer Mira Alwan. Missionary doctor Carlo Spagnolli becomes the group’s godfather.
The journey of Women of Faith for Peace continues
We make a short film, called Prayer, for the Holy See, Pontifical Council Cor Unum, with some women in the group in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The short film is selected in several festivals around the world, to bring a message of hope through art.
14 June 2017 with new African and European representatives, we travel to Ireland, to Dublin for a conference entitled “Empowered Women – Empower Women” with Donna Kennedy, Nora Casey and coordination by Valeria Lorenzi. Also in Dublin there is a meeting at the university DCU Centre for Interreligious Dialogue promoted by Philip McKinley.
30 September 2017 in Venice, we receive the prestigious Golden Lion for Peace. On stage with me is our godmother, H.H. Anita Evelyn Stokes Hayford.
In October 2017 we meet in Trento for a week of coexistence at the Diocesan Missionary Centre. In Rovereto there is a meeting at the Mart in the presence of the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Oren David, and an institutional meeting at the Palazzo della Regione.
Dreams of peace
From 15 to 18 April 2018 we are in Rome, at LUISS again with Mons. Sangalli and the Sinderesi Foundation and at PISAI, with Don Cristiano Bettega, where we meet students, activists, authorities. The week ends in Rovereto at the Peace Bell which tolls for all dreams of peace.
2019 October from 3 to 6, we meet in Trento. In Palazzo Geremia we receive the “Forgiveness Ambassadors” award signed by Daniel Lumera. There are Women of Faith for Peace from Israel, Palestine, Italy, Russia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Turkey, Germany, the United States.
On 4 October, an emotional inter-religious prayer is held at the Peace Bell in Rovereto: introduced by the moving music of the Magnificat Institute of Jerusalem with opera singer Giuliana Mettini and Fr Alberto Pari ofm, with the Women of Faith for Peace, dancing dervishes and Sheik Eshref Efendi. We are always accompanied by His Exc. Luigi Bressan, Archbishop Emeritus of Trento.
From 3 to 7 December we fly to the Holy Land: with Fr Murray we meet Sheik Bukhari’s wife on the Via Dolorosa and shoot the reportage The Encounter. With us there are Tatiana Brusco, Olha Vozna and Martina Sartorelli. Extraordinary encounters take place, like the one at the home of Adina Bar Shalom in Jerusalem, who even manages to prepare super kosher food. Only a great woman like her generates great changes. We end the journey in the monastery of the Poor Clares, with Sister Maria Chiara, the Custodian of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton, and all the women of the group.
The journey of Women of Faith for Peace does not stop
In the world-changing year 2020, we do not stop. March, we launch Tara Gandhi’s message of peace. In July, we take part in the social campaign ‘Stop Human Trafficking’. On 23 September we are able to be present at the opening of the Religion Today Film Festival: an evening against human trafficking with Talitha Kum at the Campana dei Caduti in Rovereto, with a presentation by the actress Claudia Conte, and Feride Funda G.-Gençaslan.
In the face of the world crisis, Women of Faith for Peace continues to promote dialogue with renewed hope, seeking to console the afflicted and pray for an end to the pandemic.