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Universal Day of Prayer for Students 2009


First celebrated in 1898, this year the UDPS is observed on or around February 15th. In line with WSCF’s theme for 2009 the UDPS theme is ‘Identity, Diversity and Dialogue’. WSCF’s Middle East Regional Office prepared the 2009 UDPS.

Context and theme: Identity – Diversity – Dialogue

Identity is classified as an individual’s personal identity, social identity or ethnic identity

Personal identity is the way in which a person defines themselves in terms of their individuality and difference to others. This might include factors such as age, gender, nationality, culture, religious affiliation, disability, sexuality, interests, talents, personality traits, and family and friendship networks. The way in which a person sees themselves in relation to those around them, and what makes them unique, are all aspects of personal identity.

Part of our personal identity is given to us at birth, such as gender, nationality and genetic history. Other aspects of our personal identity are formed during our early years of development and continue to develop during our life as we grow, mature, make choices and forge relationships.

Social identity is how we function within many different social situations and relate to a range of people. Social groups may involve family, ethnic communities, cultural connections, nationality, friends and work. They are an important and valued part of our daily life. How we see ourselves in relation to our social groupings defines our social identity.

Children who have been separated from their family or country of origin may become confused about their personal and social identities. They may have experienced a number of moves, been cared for by different people in different places, lost important contacts and relationships from their past, been separated from family, friends and their ethnic and cultural networks.

Feeling or being made to feel different is a major issue for children who have been adopted, particularly for children from diverse cultural backgrounds or with a disability. For the adopted child, the stigma of not living with their birth family, living as a cultural or ethnic minority and becoming accustomed to what it means to be adopted are lifelong adjustments.

Ethnic identity refers to a person’s sense of belonging to an ethnic group. Ethnic identity is drawn from the realization that a person’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviors are consistent with those of other members of the ethnic group. Ethnic identity recognizes that a person belongs to a particular group that shares not only ethnicity but common cultural practices.

“One of the most characteristic…ways of evading the identity problem is conformism, running with the herd, the refusal of solitude, flight from loneliness. This exists even in monasteries and can create a serious problem if, for renunciation and inner solitude, it tries to substitute a false atmosphere of collective euphoria and corrupt our cenobitic (monastic) life with a vapid ‘togetherness’. Togetherness is not ‘community’. To love our brother we must first respect him in his own authentic personal reality, and we cannot do this if we have not attained a basic self-respect and mature identity ourselves.

Are our efforts to be more ‘communal’ and to be more of a ‘family’ really genuine or are they only new ways to be intolerant of the solitude and integrity of the individual person? Are we simply trying to submerge and absorb him, and keep him from finding an identity that might express itself in dissent and in a desire for greater solitude? Are we simply trying to guard against his entering a ‘desert’ of questioning and paradox that will disturb our own complacencies? – Thomas Merton OCSO

The concept of Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognising our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

“Others are the bridge to our own development. They make up what is wanting in us. They demand new insights in us, new awareness, new skills of patience and acceptance. They require us to overcome our revulsions, to risk wild trust, to take down the barriers in our lives. They teach us to let differences in so that we do not all die of the breathless white space with which we surround ourselves. They enable us to take on the heart of God for them.

Most of all, other people teach us that no one has the right to take up all the space in life. There are other ideas, other ways of doing things, other needs and desires than ours in life. It is a painful moment, this time of testing the truth of what we say we believe.” – Joan Chittister OSB

Dialogue is listening and talking, hearing and being heard, it is respecting and engaging with the identity, ideas and perspectives of the other while sharing our own identity, ideas and perspectives.

“… a new kind of mind begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning… people are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning, which is capable of constant development and change.” – David Bohm

The Bible tells us much about the different parts of our theme:





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