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Marist Students Work "Peace by Piece"

In the many efforts to build peace in the Middle East, a relatively unknown program at Marist School plays a quiet but significant role in sowing seeds of peace and understanding among Jewish, Muslim and Christian students in the U.S.

Peace by Piece Marist School programPeace by Piece is a high-school based interfaith dialogue collaboration among Marist School and two other Atlanta schools, The Weber School (Jewish) and W.D. Mohammed School (Muslim).

Now in its fifth year, "The short term goal of Peace by Piece is to promote fellowship and understanding between the three Abrahamic religions by enabling students to know each other and have fun," says the program's co-coordinator Al Grindon, head of the Religion Department at Marist School. "In the long term, we are building the Kingdom of God, by planting seeds of peace and understanding..."

Peace by Piece brings 12 students from each school together three times a year. Students experience activities like Israeli dancing, basketball and Arabic lessons. There is the chance for all to join in Friday jummah prayer at the neighborhood masjid (mosque) and attend morning Mass. Each year begins with an event in a park with a professional facilitator, "our time to get to know each other on neutral ground," says Grindon. The academic year ends with a party and community service together.

Peace by Piece Marist School programFrom these simple encounters, friendships flourish and lives are changed. "Some kids on their college essays talk about this experience as one of the greatest learning experience of their Marist school years," mentions Grindon.

There is always a waiting list to participate in the program, which limits numbers to ensure relationships can be easily built.

Peace by Piece has had an impact on Marist School and students outside of the program, challenging them to reflect on their faith by encountering Jewish and Muslim students in their hallways and liturgies. "You think about what you want them to see. The students take a greater ownership of their faith as a result," observes Grindon. "In conversation with others they grow in understanding of their own faith as they explain it."

Peace by Piece Marist School programPeace by Piece's impact goes beyond the young people in the program. "Getting involved in this program has totally changed my career and direction of my life," says Grindon. "It has opened me up to interfaith dialogue on an adult level." Grindon is now not only involved in Christian-Jewish dialogue in Atlanta, but he is now also an official participant in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Muslim-Christian dialogue.

For Grindon, much of the potential of the Peace by Piece program lays dormant, seeds of peace planted with great potential yet unseen. "I would like Peace by Piece to be one building block in the Marist Vision of a Marian church, a church that is willing and able to do whatever it needs to do to be an agent of reconciliation in a broken world."