Mr. Blair served as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from May 1997 to June 2007. He was also the leader of Britain’s Labour Party (1994 to 2007) and the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield, England (1983 to 2007).
Mr. Blair’s visit to Regis is believed to be the first ever by a former or current Head of Government.
The conference began around 8:30 a.m. with students from both schools describing their communities, detailing common religious stereotypes, and sharing thoughts on beliefs and traditions that matter most to them. The dialogue evolved into a discussion about why religious literacy is important.
Religious literacy refers to the knowledge of—and ability to understand—different religions. Given the increased integration among different faiths and cultures within our global society, religious literacy has become an increasingly important issue worldwide.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, established in 2008, works towards providing practical support to help prevent religious prejudice, conflict, and extremism, and is committed to constructing peaceful co-existence among people of different faiths. The Face to Faith initiative is an educational program of the Foundation that contributes to a variety of subjects, including the Humanities, Religious and Cultural Studies, and Social Sciences. The program has been a major focus of Mr. Blair’s work since his departure as Prime Minster of the United Kingdom.
Face to Faith brings students of different beliefs and cultural traditions together using digital technology to connect schools in 19 countries. Students explore global issues from varying perspectives, gaining key skills required to resolve conflict and break down religious and cultural stereotypes.
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Above: Mr. Blair and Regis students pose for a photo with the students from the Islamic Educational College in Jordan, seen on the video conference screen.
As the morning’s video conference continued, students from both Regis and the Islamic Educational College discussed their experiences with Face to Faith and its impact on them. In the midst of these discussions, Mr. Blair entered the Regis conference room to the great surprise of the Regians present. The former Prime Minister provided some personal thoughts and reflected on his own experiences before asking students to comment on their experiences and how they overcome religious stereotypes. Following a question-and-answer session during which Mr. Blair fielded questions from students, a lively discussion ensued.
The conference concluded with students and Mr. Blair providing reflections and takeaways from the discussion. Mr. Blair shared that "we succeed best when we accept the obligation to build bridges of understanding through learning about others' faith, and are prepared to deal in humility and respect with those who don’t understand." Before departing from 84th Street, Mr. Blair thanked Regis High School for its participation in the Face to Faith program, and posed for pictures with Regians.
Mr. Blair was scheduled to address the United Nations later in the day to stress the need for education across cultures and faith lines. His visit to the U.N. follows an earlier visit in September, when he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the U.N. on the issue of combatting religious extremism.
At the September address, Mr. Blair stated:
Where there is ignorance, there is often fear. And where there is fear there is often conflict. But where there is greater knowledge, there is greater understanding. And where there is greater understanding, there is a greater chance of peaceful co-existence.Regis High School, under the guidance of Theology faculty member Mary Katherine Sheena, has been a participant in Face to Faith for the past 5 years. The efforts of Ms. Sheena and other educators across the globe who participate in the Face to Faith effort exemplify the good work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
The work that my organization does, and the work of many others, is about not just the uprooting of terrorism, but the uprooting of the thinking and philosophy behind it. I believe there is no answer to this problem that doesn’t start and continue with the importance of educating our young people. So that in a world in which people are pushed ever closer together, they learn to live with each other with mutual tolerance and respect.
"Face to Faith has been a wonderful resource for Regis and truly embodies the Ignatian ideal of being open to growth. The program encourages students to become global citizens who are interested in learning about the world around them," said Ms. Sheena. "It gives each of them an opportunity to reflect on their own attitudes and beliefs and provides a platform to engage in meaningful dialogue with students from around the world."
Founded in 1914 by an anonymous benefactor and supported by the generosity of her family, its alumni and friends, Regis High School offers a tuition free Jesuit college preparatory education to Roman Catholic young men from the New York metropolitan area who demonstrate superior intellectual and leadership potential. In the admissions process, special consideration is given to those who cannot otherwise afford a Catholic education. In 2014, Regis celebrates its Centennial, and remains the only all-scholarship Catholic secondary school in the western hemisphere.
Below are some selected photos from the event. Click here to view a full photo gallery from the event.
Above: Mr. Blair provided some personal thoughts and reflected on his own experiences
Above: Students shared their thoughts on religious literacy with Mr. Blair and the students from the Islamic Educational College in Jordan.
Above: The former Prime Minister provided Regians with his own reflections and takeaways from the discussion.