In spite of tension between the United States and some Middle Eastern countries, Bishop Kenny High School opened its doors Thursday, March 21 to welcome delegates from the Middle East and North Africa on a three-week tour of the U.S. called “Promoting Interfaith Dialogue and Religious Freedom.”

(From left to right) Maha Abouelela (interpreter), Zina Tariq Habib Alqalalwsy, Rafea Abdulaali Abdulhadi Al Tameemi, Abdelhamid Essaidi, Deacon Robert DeLuca, Adam Abduljabbar Abdulla Abdulla, Youssef Edward Morqs Ayoob, Said Fayez Samaan Maawad, Abdulaziz Mohammed A Kasem, Tarig Mohamed Ibrahim Alimam, Joseph Obeid (interpreter) and Elbagir Abousam (interpreter). (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Savanna Kearney)

The delegates’ six-day stop in Jacksonville was sponsored by Global Jax, a North Florida organization that provides opportunities for engagement with established and emerging world leaders. The delegates included members of the clergy and professionals studying religious issues, such as professionals in media, law, education and more. The visitors’ home countries included Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq and Sudan.

The day began with the delegates observing how the students do their “morning exercises,” which includes prayer and the pledge of allegiance. Then Deacon Robert DeLuca, director of campus ministry at Bishop Kenny, gave an overview of the school, including how the curriculum is not only college-preparatory, but also faith-based. He stressed that all are welcome at Bishop Kenny, including immigrants from the Middle East.

Students in Jon Pichardo’s economics class answer questions from the delegates and their interpreter. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Savanna Kearney)

The delegates then toured the campus and made stops in classes that were in session, including music, Catholic social teaching, economics, Latin and more. With help from a translator, delegates were able to interact with the students and ask them about their experience in Catholic school. Likewise, students asked the delegates questions regarding faith and life in the Middle East. The day ended with the delegates stating that they were impressed by the passion the administration of Bishop Kenny showed for their students.

According to Jason Wells, program director of international development with Global Jax, the interfaith tour allows for an exchanging of ideas.

“Essentially, the reason why we do this sort of thing is we want to capture people of influence and we want to give them the impression that the United States is a force for good,” said Wells. “It helps to counter hate. It helps to counter this message that is spreading false ideas about the United States and really helps us in our diplomatic efforts as we try to accomplish several different goals in whatever country it may be.”

To learn more about Global Jax, visit www.globaljax.org.

Senior Megan Hall and Carla Chin, marketing and advancement coordinator for Bishop Kenny, show the delegates how students use iPads at one-to-one technology schools. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Savanna Kearney)