YATRA: Journey of Friendship & Dialogue

YATRA: Journey of Friendship & Dialogue

Filipino Columban Father Kurt Zion Pala, assigned in Myanmar

20170720_231103Glady, my sister from India is also a participant of YATRA 2017.I was born in a predominantly Christian city, Iligan City which is an hours drive to Marawi City – declared as the Islamic City of the South, Philippines. But growing up I had a few Muslim classmates and we were good friends. Yet our communities do not necessarily see each other eye to eye. We see each other as traitors. As a pastor now, I went through a lot of formation that demands interaction and encounters with my Muslim neighbors – that opened my eyes to the truth we are one despite our many differences.

Currently, the Marawi crisis is on-going without end in sight. There are many conflicts around the world today. The refugee crisis caused by all these misunderstandings, biases and even hate towards each other is something we should all look into. We are all refugees in this world. It is better to help one another than drown each other in the sea of hate and anger.

It is with this thought in mind that I want to deepen my engagement with peoples of other faith traditions other than Christianity. Now I am working here in Myanmar a predominantly Buddhist nation with a lot of minority groups like Christians, Hindus and Muslims. This year’s Youth in Asia Training for Religious Amity (YATRA) theme “Passionately Christian and Compassionately Interreligious” is very challenging at a time that is very exciting and testing for many Christians. Everywhere we see Christian values are being challenged but in a good way engaged. How do I as a Christian be both passionate about my faith but also compassionate with others? How do I witness to the words of Jesus Christ – love thy neighbor like you love yourself or even when I am considered an enemy by the other – how do I live with them and love them? How do I enter into dialogue with them?

YATRA 2017 participants with volunteers from the Jakarta Theological Seminary.

These are some of the things I hope to learn and gain from the YATRA experience. I think the best thing I can get from the whole experience is the friendships I hope to build with people, young people who are what Dr. Jose Rizal, my national hero consider as the hope of the future.

Above was part of an essay I wrote as an application to this year’s edition of the YATRA. Yatra is a Sanskrit word for journey. And I was not disappointed. I discovered friendship and dialogue in the space of two weeks. I set off from Yangon, Myanmar on 9 July to begin what would be an adventure of a lifetime. I joined 33 other young people from all over Asia, countries and regions like – Australia, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. We also come from different Christian traditions. We were hosted by the very progressive Jakartaa Theological Seminary.

Profound speakers from the faith traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.

The two-week program included sessions on the different faith traditions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) and atheism. Interactive sessions included visits to various faith sacred spaces like temples, churches, and masjid (mosque). Theological reflections and Bible studies helped deepened the young peoples’ understanding of dialogue. Worship groups provided creative and reflective morning prayer spaces allowing young people to lead the group in worship through songs and dances. The two-week program achieved two kinds of dialogue: inter religious and ecumenical dialogue. The other highlights are visits to different churches that are actively living out inter religious dialogue and the cultural night which showcased the talents of the participants. As for me I represented Myanmar. I sang and danced with my partner, Samuel – an Anglican deacon also from Myanmar.

We experienced Indonesian hospitality. Indonesia is considered as a very tolerating society although largely Muslim populated. But through time conflicts among the Christian and Muslim population erupted leading to many deaths on both sides. Places like Aceh and Ambon are examples of these conflicts in Indonesia. But what was more interesting were the stories of hope and transformation after the conflicts.

The theological reflections provided by different Christian theologians broadened my understanding of the Christian identity and mission. I would like to highlight these two points: (a) The hospitality and friendship in the Trinity and (b) the spaciousness of God. One speaker pointed out to us the icon of the Trinity. In between the three persons of the Trinity is space. The space between them for me can be understand as the space or freedom the Trinity gives each other and to us. On hospitality, I remember the story of the walk to Emmaus – where the guest, who was Jesus invited by the two disciples becomes the host – in the breaking of the bread and he becomes the bread broken and shared himself. On the spaciousness of God, it allows God to be both familiar and strange. The Trinity is the mystery that unfolds in our experience of both suffering, death but also of happiness, joy and life.

Holy Trinity icon by Andrei Rublev.

There are so many aspects of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhist I learned that deepened my own Christian faith. Islam taught me about the attitude of surrendering to God. Buddhism taught me more about karuna or compassion. And Hinduism pointed out to me the law of karma – everything has a cause and effect. Three things I take from the two weeks of intense dialogue.

Yearn for one’s purpose of life
And the
Respect for others
Allow God, others and myself the space to be.

The young people I met are yearning for their own purpose in life. They come from different backgrounds: students, social workers, bankers, youth pastors, deacons, theologian-professor, teachers, media content manager, and software developer. But their Christian identity makes them more than their professions. They want to seek more in life. They want to seek the Truth. What is the Christian identity and mission? They are passionately Christian.

I also learned that respect is very important when we relate with people. Although we do not know much about the other – respect allows us to see the other as ourselves. Makes us more considerate, tolerating and accepting of the other. Respect is very important in dialogue.

One thing that really stuck with me was the talk on the spaciousness of God. God cannot be limited by our human understanding that He can and will only look after Christians. He has to be bigger than that. God is a spacious God. Let us allow God to be. And if we allow God to be what He is then we should also give each other space to be who we are. My Yatra family have shown me how to be compassionately inter religious but more so compassionately ecumenical.


The end of the two-week journey with 33 young women and men is the beginning of a greater adventure – that of being Passionately Christian and Compassionately Inter Religious in our respective families, communities, churches, and countries. Thank you YATRA family, World Council of Churches and Jakarta Theological Seminary. Terima kasih!

The Youth in Asia Training for Religious Amity is conducted by the World Council of Churches. This two-week residential training programme is for young leaders aged between 20-35 years from the WCC member churches from Asia. Centred on the theme “Passionately Christian and Compassionately Interreligious” the training will equip participants to engage in ministries of justice and peace in pluralistic contexts from an inter religious perspective. (WCC website)


naomi judd

rainier maria rilke

If you want to see us dance check out this video #WeDance, a Cultural dance presentations

You can also visit:

Columban Interreligious Dialogue

The Columbans are a Catholic missionary society of priests, students and lay missionaries. Called from 10 different countries, our members form small, multi-cultural communities. Sent in the name of the Church to announce by deed and word the good news of Jesus Christ, we work in 16 countries around the world. Solidarity with the poor and working for justice and the integrity of creation shape our lives and our commitments.

Jakarta Theological Seminary

World Council of Churches