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Real World Activism

posted Jun 17, 2012, 5:08 AM by Interfaith WS

This is the fifth installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. 


Chapter 4 -- Acts of Faith:  Real World Activism


Brother Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic monk in Chicago, lived in a spiritual world apart and had a vision that transcended human limitations.  He constantly moved Eboo Patel into the future where the creation of the Interfaith Youth Core became inevitable.


Brother Wayne “was convinced that we were experiencing the interspiritual moment in human history, a time when the great religions of the world would come together to affirm their common values….(He) had lost hope that the existing leaders of the interfaith movement would take bold steps.  ‘They are very spiritual people,’ he explained to me, ‘but they are afraid of exercising their prophetic voice.’  So he had set out to find new blood.


“Then he turned to me and said with utter seriousness, ‘I think you can play a leadership role in the global interfaith youth movement.  I can tell you are a very spiritual person.’


“‘Sure,’ I told him.  ‘Who can say no to that?’”


Eboo had been in Chicago about six months after traveling around the U.S. following graduation from college.  He found a teaching position at an alternative education program for urban minority high school dropouts.  The school was expected to take these students, many of whom read at a fifth-grade level, and prepare them to pass the general equivalency (GED) test within six months. 


Eboo’s advanced sociology training, high ideals and supreme self confidence were totally unrealistic in this setting.  Students had little or no support system.  Many of the females had at least one baby.  Many male students were in gangs.  And, the vast majority were poor.  After hearing Eboo explain his theory of education, one of the parents asked, “’You’re going to teach my daughter to read, right?’”


Eventually, Eboo and the students began to make progress, but he said it was a lonely existence for him.  “What I really missed was a community,” he said.  And on New Year’s Day 1997 he resolved to address the problem.  He and his roommate hosted a potluck meal and invited several of their activist friends.  The meetings filled a need, and soon the gatherings attracted as many 80 people.  The synergy led to the creation of a social justice community.


“A small group of us went to meet with Father Lambert from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish” about renting a vacant convent.  Despite the absence of traditional religious trappings among the group of activists, Father Lambert decided to give it a try.  The group became involved in neighborhood affairs and soon purchased a second building.


Brother Wayne began taking Eboo and his friends to various interfaith meetings.  After finishing his talk he introduced Eboo and his friend, Kevin, as “the leaders of the next generation…who are building the interfaith youth movement.”  That was all in Brother Wayne’s mind.  There was no interfaith youth movement.  Yet.  Eboo said there were always dinners with a lot of old people talking in circles.  Then, the earth shifted.  Eboo and Kevin were invited to attend the Global Summit sponsored by United Religions Initiative.  The conference acknowledged that for interfaith work to be successful there had to be “concrete, ongoing interfaith activities….Young people needed a space to connect faith, diversity and service.”


Eboo left the summit with the passion to make the Interfaith Youth Core a reality.  When they returned to Chicago and shared the idea with Brother Wayne, he was ecstatic.  “’You know who will want to hear about this?’ he said suddenly.  ‘His Holiness.’”  The next thing Eboo knew, he was on a plane to Dharamsala to meet with the Dalai Lama.