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Russell Berrie Fellows – a decade later

A decade after my arrival in Rome as part of the first internationally recruited cohort of Russell Berrie Fellows in Interreligious Studies, the program was still going, stronger than ever, in fact.

Despite the pandemic, last year’s cohort managed to make the best of their experience, and I just recently came across a blog they prepared.

Prompted me to look up some of the old blog posts I had written about the Fellowship or about our Holy Land Seminar.

Russell Berrie Foundation Board of Trustees

For three days this week, the Angelicum, the Lay Centre, and the Russell Berrie Fellows hosted the board of trustees of the Russell Berrie Foundation, which grants the funding and direction for our Fellowship. It was the first time the full board had come to Rome to see first-hand how the program was progressing.

In addition to the 20 Fellows (Ten each year for two years) funded, the Foundation also provides for the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Angelicum, supplies visiting faculty for six intensive courses this year, and the annual lecture in Interfaith Dialogue featuring a world-renowned speaker.

Russell Berrie Fellows with Angelica Berrie, Rome Islamic Leadership and Angelicum staff

The six trustees were friends, family, and colleagues of Russ Berrie, the successful New Jersey entrepreneur with interests ranging from Catholic-Jewish relations, to business leadership development, medical diabetes research, and fostering a Jewish renaissance. Angelica Berrie, his widow, is chair of the board.

Three of the trustees had come to Rome in early 2005 to meet with John Paul II, and at that time met with some of Rabbi Jack Bemporad’s students. This encounter sparked the idea that became the Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies. Over lunch, one of the trustees told me that, as the son of two Holocaust survivors, he was completely surprised by his welcome in Rome on that visit and the attitude of these post-Vatican II Catholics. Not what he expected or had experienced in the past; he became a convert to the cause of dialogue.

I had shared with him and then with the entire group that, being raised not only post-Vatican II but by parents formed mostly after the Council themselves, nothing could be more antithetical to Catholicism than anti-Semitism. It was in fact fairly late, in college, that I first encountered a history of the Church with the Jews that was anything other than the very positive relations we now largely enjoy, and it was a shock. For the man with whom I was speaking, his surprise had been at discovering my generation’s positive disposition.  

Several events gave the Fellows and the trustees time to meet and mingle, along with officers of the Angelicum and then at the Lay Centre. A more formal presentation was offered by four of us representing the two cohorts of current Fellows: Myself, Paola Bernardini (Italy), John Bakeni (Nigeria), and Taras Dzyubanskyy (Ukraine).

Russell Berrie Foundation Trustees

My remarks focused on three sections: 1) Who am I and what is my background in interreligious dialogue, 2) Why Rome and the Angelicum, instead of somewhere like Boston College or Notre Dame – places with stronger academic reputations and established Jewish-Catholic studies and resources for dialogue? And 3) Where is the future of our dialogue, and my role in it as a Fellow?

Most people have heard my vocation story, or at least the early part of it. I distinctly remember where I was when, at the age of 7, I discovered that not all Christians shared the same Church. I was scandalized, even then, and vowed to spend my life working to heal the divisions. At about the same time I discovered that not everyone was Christian, but this delighted me and I determined to learn as much as I could about the world’s religions.

But the question in the minds of several people is, Why Rome? Why Angelicum? There is the historical opportunity in the form of the personal connections between Russ Berrie, Rabbi Bemporad (who has been visiting professor at the Angelicum for over a decade) and Fr. Fred Bliss (former chair of the ecumenical section). It is not the only place where a Rabbi teaches on a Catholic theology faculty, nor the first. But it is where Karol Wojtyla got his doctorate in philosophy and where, for example, Cardinal-designate Archbishop Wuerl of Washington and Archbishop Dolan of New York did their studies while in Rome.

The Angelicum is the second oldest of the pontifical universities, after the Gregorian, and the only one which offers the specialization in ecumenism or an entire programme in English – making it more accessible to several of the countries where the growth of the church is strongest, in Africa, India, and southeast Asia. The program here offers exposure to a broader cross-section of the church and future episcopate than would be the case at even the best U.S. or northern European university. Just being part of such a diverse fellowship, often being one of only two or three North Americans or native Anglophones in a class offers insight to the dialogue within the church as well as dialogues ecumenical and interreligious. As I noted in my remarks, the Fellows represent the demographics of the Church better than the College of Cardinals does, though we need more from Latin and South America.

One of the most interesting comments for me came from our sole Latina, Claudia, from Chile. Leadership was a theme repeated by the trustees and staff of the Foundation during our orientation and meetings. As a lay person, she says, she had never considered what leadership in the Church would mean, for her. Obviously, she will not be bishop or a religious superior, and this is true of most of us. Even after having studied theology for several years, and having been invited to Trent for an international symposium in her field, she had never been asked by anyone within the Church to think about her leadership role. Remarkable.

An Israeli Arab and a Palestinian Jew walk into a bar… 

 (…if I had included this entry in the previous post as originally intended, the setup would have included a Russian nun.)

First, a disclaimer: I am an amateur in observing the processes for peace and justice in the Middle East. As an American I have an affinity for and support of Israel, as a Christian a sense of solidarity with many Palestinians, as a Catholic adamantly against anti-Semitism or any form of religious discrimination, and as an educator and practitioner of dialogue a commitment to non-violence and the truth. My limitations are such – neither speaking Hebrew nor Arabic, not being a native or a professional diplomat or peacemaker – that I have always known there were others who would understand the situation better. But I hope to learn more in these months. It sometimes, probably naively, seems like it would actually take little effort – it simply must be willed. The majority of people I meet could live with one another without problem, given the chance. I will offer further reflections on the current situation and overall concerns at a later time.

efrat

Efrat, Israeli settlement/disputed development, south of Bethlehem.

In the last week, I have tagged along with the sabbatical students of Tantur’s continuing education program – mostly priests, with a couple of religious – for a “dual-narrative” tour and conversations. I understand this set up was something of an experiment for Tantur, and I personally think it worked very well.

Two experienced guides, one Israeli, one Palestinian, traded off presentations designed to introduce participants into the overriding narratives in the region regarding the current situation. And, unsurprisingly, to suggest that it is black and white, and only two-sided, is erroneous.  Yet, many of us were only familiar with one or the other. (I have had an excellent introduction to Judaism and Israel, through the Shalom Hartmann Institute and the Russell Berrie Fellowship, but, while I have a good grasp of Islam generally, the specific Palestinian story was less firm in my mind; others had the opposite experience).

The most impressive feature was probably the positive dynamic between our two guides, and their openness to learn from one another, even as we learned from them. AS much as was possible, we had them both together, though occasionally separately.

We started with a presentation on the history of Zionism and its various movements. Then a presentation on Palestinian nationalism, and the shift from Arab to pan-Islam identity. We drove from Jerusalem to Jaffa-Tel Aviv along Route One, getting an interwoven dialogue of the history of the Israeli War of Independence; the displacement of Palestinians (mostly Muslim) from Israel and of Jews from the Arab countries (in roughly equal numbers); the stories of villages destroyed and of those survived. We visited the old city of Jaffa, the first Jewish neighborhood outside the old city, Neve Tzedek, and ended at Rabin Square, visiting the site of the former Prime Minister’s 1995 assassination.

The iconic image of peace in the Middle East from my youth.

The iconic image of peace in the Middle East from my youth.

Oh, and we saw a couple gazelle along the road, too.

Our second day included a presentation by a couple of young workers involved in the Christian Peacemaker Teams based in Hebron, detailing their role as observers of the relationship between the Palestinian locals, Israeli settlers, the IDF and Border Patrol. Lunch at a famous restaurant above Shepherd’s Field, The Tent, was delicious and enlightening,conversation lead as it was by the regional director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a “network of organizations that conduct civil society work in conflict transformation, development, coexistence and cooperative activities…among Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews.” In the afternoon we visited with a Christian Palestinian and an Israeli Jew, a former Seattleite turned settler, involved in an organization called Roots, which “draws Israelis and Palestinians who, despite living next to each other, are separated by walls of fear- not just fear of each other, but even of the price of peace.” We rounded out the day at the disputed Israeli development at Efrat, located in Judea/West Bank. A current population of about 10,000 is split into roughly 20% secular, 20% Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”), and 60% Orthodox/Observant Jews, it was founded in 1983.

At the end of the day as we gathered for evening prayer, we found Tantur overrun by children. Turns out the seasonal gathering of Kids4Peace had been bumped out of their scheduled location and had had some trouble finding a place – some locations made some members uncomfortable, and unbelievably, some places did not want them. Who could object to kids wanting peace, getting to know each other? It was a beautiful benediction wrapping up a couple of intensive days, and a compelling reminder of what is at stake here in the land called holy.

While still processing much of the information and experience, i am a small step closer to understanding each of the narratives that often seem impossible to come from the same situation. And there are, as in every situation, exceptions and variations. It is also amazing how people living in such a small area,in such close proximity to one another can have so little contact with each other. This is one of the dangers of the current situation. As a couple people have noted, at least the older residents remember living side by side with someone who was “other”. Now, for the millennials, this sort of thing has never been part of their experience. How much easier is it, then, to establish increasingly divergent narratives?

Three Months at Tantur, Jerusalem

The Ottoman-era gate at Tantur

The Ottoman-era gate at Tantur

Summer has come and gone, and I find myself checking off something that has been on my “Bucket List” for nearly two decades: Living and research at Notre Dame’s Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.

I arrived in the Jerusalem late Sunday night, after what felt like a week in transit via Seattle, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Amsterdam and Rome. My first thought, as the Nesher shuttle drove under Montefiore Windmill, is that time flies and I can hardly believe it has already been 5 years since my first visit to the Holy Land. That was a 9-day seminar with the Russell Berrie Fellowship, at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Today, I embark on a 3-month dissertation writing fellowship at Tantur. It has taken three years of working multiple part time jobs (university teaching, research assistant, study abroad residence manager, spiritual advisor, international program staff) to get to the point I could take a few months ‘off’ and actually work full time on my dissertation. I am looking forward to it, but I confess it takes a couple days to adjust to having so much time to work on the one thing I never seem to have time for!

Thankfully, Tantur has a library of about 60,000-70,000 volumes on hand, with emphasis on ecumenism and patristics. [By comparison, the Centro Pro Unione in Rome has about 24,000; the World Council of Churches library at Bossey has about 100,000.] The library resources suffered some during the Second Intifada (c2000-2005), and is in the midst of updating its collection – a project I have been asked to help with while I am here, as part of my Fellowship.

The roots of the institute go back to the Second Vatican Council and encounters between Paul VI and ecumenical observers, who dreamed of an international theological institute for ecumenical research and life. The famous 1964 meeting of Paul VI and Athenagoras in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives sparked the notion that this would be the obvious place for such an institute to be established.

Before long, Paul VI entrusted the vision to none other than Notre Dame’s president, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC. As he looked around Jerusalem, he seemed to find the perfect spot.

Tantur is located on 36 acres of hilltop olive trees, vineyards, and pine. Overlooking Bethlehem, Gilo, and Bayt Jala, a short drive south of Jerusalem and with the mountains of Jordan visible on a clear day, the location has been understandably described as “strategic”. Prior to the 1967 Six Day War, this was Jordanian territory, and is ‘east’ of the Green Line but west of the border fence surrounding Bethlehem.

The property itself belonged to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, at least since 1869, when it was administered by the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire’s branch of the SMOM. During the Ottoman era, they operated a hospital on this site. Apparently, though, there are ties to this land with the order dating back to their first arrival here – in 1099, with the first crusade.

Fr. Hesburgh convinced Paul VI to purchase the property from the Order in 1966, for $300,000, just a few months shy of the Six Day War. The initial cost of building the center was estimated at $1 million, for which Fr. Ted looked to the generosity of I. A. O’Shaughnessy (known on campus for having donated the funds for the Arts and Letters College). Notre Dame leased the property from the Vatican in 1967, but building had to wait during the conflict, after which Israel now controlled the territory. By the time the center was constructed in 1971, the cost had doubled. The first year of operation was 1972.

Anticipating the renewal of the Vatican lease of Tantur to Notre Dame for another 50 years, starting next year, the University has approved a strategic plan that would propel the Institute to its next phase. The original vision of a resident community of scholars has ebbed and flowed, and most of the people who come through do so either for sabbatical or short term programs, in addition to ND’s study abroad programs in the spring. There are currently three of us considered resident Fellows or Scholars: A Church of England priest, a Jewish biblical scholar, and myself. There is also one seminarian intern/program assistant. There are about twenty people here on a three-month sabbatical/continuing education program, mostly Catholic priests (with two Anglicans). It is easy to envision something like the Lay Centre in Rome as a model for the community life here, with a more explicit focus on ecumenical dialogue.

***

I had finished most of this post at the end of my first full day here; this morning (Yom Kippur/ Eid al-Adha) I heard the news of the shooting death of a 19-year old university freshman at a security checkpoint from a Mennonite peace worker. It is a somber reminder that even as I am here to get away from the distractions of the world to write and research, and as quiet and peaceful as things appear from this hilltop retreat, the complexities of the situation here, and the tragedies, require our prayer for peaceful resolution. And deeper understanding. I am no expert, and I hope the next three months bring me to a deeper understanding and solidarity with my brothers and sisters here – Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian.

The Pacific Northwest Presence in Rome

St. James Cathedral, Seattle

St. James Cathedral, Seattle

The last month has confirmed that there is a greater presence of the pacific northwest in Rome (Churchy Rome, that is) than there has been for a very long time.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Sartain of Seattle passed through Rome, mostly on business with the LCWR, it seems. Though there was no time on his busy schedule to meet with us all, it gave an opportunity to reflect on the presence of people from the Emerald City and environs here in the Eternal City. An almost overlapping visit from the Laughlin sisters of St. James Cathedral fame made for a more enjoyable Northwest night out.

We have a record number of students from the Archdiocese, two seminarians and two graduate students. Then, there are a couple of professionals at work around the Vatican.

Michael Dion is a second-year seminarian and from Sacred Heart Parish, Enumclaw. He is studying for a bachelor of sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Kyle Mangloña is another second-year seminarian from Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Tacoma. He is likewise studying for a bachelor of sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Derek Farmer is a US Navy veteran and former Seattle city hall employee who just finished his MA in Pastoral Studies at Seattle University and was accepted for the Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies. His Certificate program is equivalent to the first year of the license in sacred theology, at the Angelicum. He is from Christ our Hope Parish in Belltown, Seattle, and married to his wife Katy for just over a year.

Cindy Wooden is the senior correspondent of the Catholic News Service Rome Bureau, and she has been here about 20 years. Her previous employer? The Catholic Northwest Progress, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle. And she’s a Seattle U. grad whose roommate was a parishioner of mine at St. Brendan.

Fr. Steve Bossi, CSP, is the new vice-rector of Santa Susanna, the American parish in Rome, and a Seattle native and still has family in the area. He too is a Seattle U. alumnus.

Msgr. John Cihak from Portland, OR, is a Notre Dame grad, working for the Congregation for Bishops, and the only diocesan priest from the northwest anywhere in the curia, as far as we can tell.

Finally, A.J. Boyd (your humble scribe), a doctoral student in ecumenism at the Angelicum, adjunct theology professor, and graduate assistant at the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue. A native of North Bend, WA, and former lay ecclesial minister for the Archdiocese of Seattle, I also spent a year in a post-grad program at Seattle U, after studies at Notre Dame and CUA.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist, Rome

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist, Rome

Church Reform Wishlist: Catholic Education and Pastoral Formation

Education

  • All candidates for pastoral ministry, whether presbyterate, diaconate, or lay ecclesial ministry, are required to take an introductory course in ecumenism, and in interreligious dialogue. At last count, only about 1/3 of seminaries were in compliance. Enforce this.
  • No minor seminaries!
  • Seminarians should not be isolated in their formation, but prepare for a life of ministry with deacons and lay ecclesial ministers alongside candidates for the diaconate and lay ecclesial ministry
  • There should be an accreditation system for pontifical universities that utilizes Catholic higher education leaders from around the world and from outside the pontifical/ecclesiastical system
  • The clericalism contained in the Congregation for Education’s governing documents on the distinction between “theology” (only for priests) and “religious studies” (for religious and laity) should be rooted out completely.
  • A commitment to consultation and collaboration, and an understanding of the difference, should be inculcated in all called to pastoral ministry.
  • Formation for ministry in the U.S. means, generally, a BA in philosophy and theology or a BA in something else with some prerequisite work, and then a Master of Divinity or similar. In Rome, the degree for ordination is a Baccalaureate in THeology, after a partial degree in Philosophy. What about psychology, leadership, non-profit administration, etc? Why a seven year program in one system, and a five year program in another?
  • The Roman pontifical system needs a desperate overhaul. It needs to accept that there have been lay students earning theology degrees for a century and adapt accordingly. There is so much overlap and repetition between the universities and institutes, a lack of funding, a surplus faculty and a deficiency of staff, and a tendency to be isolated from the broader theological and academic world. Do there really need to be seven faculties of canon law, and two dozen faculties of theology? All the universities, athenae, and institutes combined probably only have 10,000 students in residence. Perhaps it is time to have an actual system in place here, to which all the participating universities belong. This would take an extensive blog in itself….

Russell Berrie Fellows with Angelica Berrie, Rome Islamic Leadership and Angelicum staff

Jump to:

Summer 2013

In the last few months, while the world has witnessed the first resignation of the bishop of Rome in six centuries, the election of one with the hopes of the world on his shoulders, renewed violence in Egypt and ongoing horror in Syria, the change in my own life is both far more modest, and more pleasant to share. Of the others, no doubt more will be said.

In May I was informed that my hours at the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue will be reduced. The Russell Berrie Foundation and the Angelicum– co-operators in the direction of the Center – have been very generous in keeping me on as the Graduate Assistant (and de facto only regular staff person) for the last two years since my fellowship was concluded.  I will continue for the coming academic year in the same capacity, and await anxiously news of the next stage of the Center and the Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies at the Angelicum, and whether I may continue to be a part of it.

The reduction in hours, including two summer months without any work, meant three things:

  • I would have to find additional work to pay for my studies and living expenses (no doctoral stipends in Rome!);
  • I would have to leave the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, my home in Rome the last four years;
  • I would have an entirely free summer – and even fewer resources with which to enjoy it.

As with my original move to Rome, however, providence provides.

Within a week, three work opportunities presented themselves, which all eventually came to fruition. One even had the advantage of ‘killing two birds with one stone’ and taking care of the accommodation question as well.

  1. In mid-August, I take on the role of Resident Manager (Domers, read ‘rector’) for The Catholic University of America’s flagship study abroad program, happily joining the staff of my first graduate school, in the city of my latest.
    It comes with a spacious corner apartment at the Prati campus – furnished in the colors of Halloween. (I kid you not: Pumpkin-colored couch, dining room chairs, tableware, salad bowl, etc… St. Mary Magdalen folks, Fr. Marquart would have absolutely loved it…).

    The 70's would be proud

    The 70’s would be proud

  2. In mid-September, I begin teaching my first university level course as an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Assumption College (Worcester, MA) for their new Rome program. My course is part of the core curriculum, titled “Contemporary Catholicism”. And I get to teach it, in Rome, in the semester that Popes John XXXIII and John Paul II are being canonized. How about them apples, fellow theologians? Preparing the syllabus took the first part of my summer vacation, but has been a great deal of fun.
  1. In February, I start teaching my first specialized course in Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue at the university level, this time at one of the Roman colleges (seminaries), the Pontifical Beda College, where second-career Anglophone seminarians usually find themselves. The course is offered during the fourth year, so all of my students will be transitional deacons – which should make for some fun conversations given my research area!

As for the free summer? Staying in Rome is an expensive proposition… but so is returning home to Seattle.

Suddenly, a little casual research into the interplay of Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam in central and southeastern Europe seemed appealing. It is amazing how far you can get there on a limited budget, a ecumenical network, and whatever else providence can provide…

Capo d’anno – Looking back, looking ahead

Every year I find that I had many more ideas for my blog than I actually had time to post. The irony, of course, is that the busier and more interesting life gets, the less time to chronicle it.

Perhaps the biggest ‘distraction’ was a push to finish my License in Sacred Theology. I submitted my thesis in mid-September, at twice its intended length, and passed my oral comprehensive exams in early October, being awarded an S.T.L. in Ecumenism and Dialogue magna cum laude. I am now dedicated to finishing the doctorate – with the dubiously honorific postnominal initials of S.T.D. – in the next 18 months or so. (“Or so” indicating about a half year of flexibility for editing, revising, and Roman beaurocracy).

On paper, the S.T.L. seems to require only 20 lecture courses, 4 seminars, a thesis and oral comprehensive exams, and could be completed normally in two years. In fact, owing to extra requirements of my particular discipline, I completed 31 courses for credit and audited three others (including one with Cardinal Walter Kasper). … and that was with credit for seven courses walking in the door, owing to previous academic and pastoral work.

Translating American and Pontifical degrees is tricky, because each system inherently thinks itself superior to the other.  Roughly, the STL is equivalent to being ABD in the U.S. PhD system, though certain elements simply do not translate: There are no teaching assistants or lecture opportunities for anyone without a doctorate in hand, in the Roman system, for example. It is still a good indicator of where I am in my studies.

 

Certainly the biggest encounter, and one of the nicest surprises of the year, was a little one on one time with His Grace, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, now retired Archbishop of Canterbury. On the day of his address to the Synod of Bishops in October, he came to the Caelian hill for a short tour, and I was invited to be his local guide and ecumenical host for the encounter. As we walked through the basilica of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo, the ruins of the Temple of Claudius, and onto the grounds the Lay Centre shares with the Passionists, we were able to talk briefly about the state of the church and the churches, and his upcoming remarks. Seeing his ‘entourage’ it was like a reunion of friends and respected colleagues, people I admire for their dedicated service to the Church and ecumenism from both communions.

The year began on an ecumenical note, as I traveled in January to Norway to celebrate the ordination of a friend and former housemate of mine as a pastor in the (Lutheran) Church of Norway, which took place in Nidaros Cathedral, in Trondheim, just a couple degrees south of the arctic circle.

January of course also sees the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, always a busy time in Rome. This year included, in January and February, a course at the Angelicum taught by Cardinal Walter Kasper on ecclesiological ecumenical themes.

During the spring semester, President Mary McAleese of Ireland, recently retired, moved to Rome to finish a License in Canon Law, and spent the spring semester in residence at the Lay Centre. She brought a wealth of knowledge of the church, experience in politics, and stories told with the kind of skill and humor that made the Irish famous as bards. She has been a great gift to the community.

March witnessed the first of two visits this year by Archbishop Rowan Williams, including a joint vespers service with Pope Benedict, on the occasion of the Camaldoli celebrating their millennial anniversary, at the Church of St. Gregory the Great, our next door neighbors on the Caelian hill, and the installation of an Anglican priest as the Catholic prior of the order’s chapter in Rome. (He was received into Catholic orders after his election as prior.)

In April, I was able to head up to Assisi for a conference sponsored by the Ecclesiological Investigations Network, and included several U.S. graduate students and theologians. Cardinal Koch gave a significant lecture on fifty years of Jewish-Catholic dialogue as this year’s annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding, sponsored by the office I work for, the John Paul Center for Interreligious Dialogue.

 In June, I was invited by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to be a plenary speaker from the Catholic side at a Jewish-Catholic dialogue in New York, with a focus on emerging leadership in this oldest and closest interreligious dialogue.  

I spent the summer in Rome, practicing Italian and learning first-hand why anyone who can, leaves. It is impossible to think in that kind of heat and humidity, the universities and libraries close, and there is virtually nowhere in the city with air conditioning. I did get a trip to Germany and the Netherlands at the end of the summer to cool down a little. September included a working visit to Budapest.

October was a busy month, with the synod for bishops, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II opening, visits by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Patriarch of Constantinople, an international conference at the Lay Centre, the orientation of a new cohort of Russell Berrie Fellows, and of course the comprehensive exams for my license.

November took an eastern focus, with conferences on Eastern Catholicism, and Middle Eastern Christianity. December was about wrapping up the year and getting ready to head home for my first Christmas holiday in the States since 2008. 

Around the edges at the Catholic-Jewish Emerging Leadership Conference

American vs Italian ecclesial approaches reflected

This was the second such emerging leadership conference sponsored by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The first took place in 2009 at Castel Gandolfo.

There were only a few participants from the first event at this one, intentionally. Speaking with a couple of the Catholic participants of both meetings, some observations on the differences (and how they relate to the difference of Italian and American Catholicism) came up.

At that first meeting, virtually all the Catholics invited were members of the Focolare movement. This time, we had much better representation across the board, but it is a ‘tell’ of the Italian approach of the first one and a more American (and German?) approach at the second.

The Italian church is the birthplace of the lay movements, and here, often, the active lay person – the ‘serious’ Catholic – is a member of a movement. But it is like being part of a political party too, people size you up immediately based on which movement you belong to, or pigeonhole you a little too quickly. “Oh, you’re into ecumenism, you should be in Focolare”, “Peace and Justice is your thing? Go to Sant’Egidio”, “You’re wearing a double breasted clerical suit, your hair is parted just so, and you do not read theology published after 1938? You must be a Legionnaire.” And so on.

The American context however, is a much livelier and generally healthier parochial-diocesan Church. While there is certainly too much polarization generally imported from the general culture, American Catholics tend not to belong to lay movements, or if they do, they tend to be extracurricular to their main parochial and diocesan life and activity. Think Knights of Columbus, Cursillo, and even the Charismatic movement. Instead we encourage people to be engaged in parish life, diocesan visioning, and lay volunteer ministries. A healthy diocesan vocations program encourages lay ecclesial ministry alongside its diaconate and presbyterate programs. A US Catholic who is active in a movement but not in a parish is seen, if anything, as a little suspect, rather than as super committed, where in Italy it seems almost the reverse.

Since the Jewish participants were Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, representing a variety of organizations and movements, it seems much better that the Catholic Church be represented in all its diversity too!

Report on New York: Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Dolan highlighted five issues where Catholic-Jewish dialogue could concentrate: the human aspect, cultural challenges, theological issues, pastoral issues, and religious freedom/human rights. When asked which of the human rights issues he saw as the most important, he replied, ‘immigration’.

In the five boroughs that make up New York City are about 1.5 million Jews, and nearly twice as many Catholics, out of a total population of just over 8 million.

One of the funniest moments was when the Cardinal admitted that the portrait of Pope Benedict hanging in the room, over the papal chair used during the apostolic visit of 2008, was purchased by Cardinal Egan over ebay a few weeks before the pope’s arrival, because it was discovered they did not have one handy. (Not sure that should be taken too seriously!)

One of the most interesting, for a Catholic ecumenist, was when his diocesan ecumenical officer noted that with the upcoming consolidation of New York area seminary programs, they will finally be requiring courses on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue for all presbyteral and diaconate candidates, as required by the 1993 Directory. Better late than never!

Russell Berrie Foundation

On Friday, for lunch, I traveled out to Teaneck, NJ, to meet with officers of the Russell Berrie Foundation, which so generously supplied my Fellowship in Rome and underwrites the John Paul II Center where I now work. We also were joined by Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the center here, and we spent two hours debriefing the week’s program and structure, the experience of the dialogue and the setting, and then turned to the current state of Jewish Catholic relations (and a little U.S. politics, just to catch me up.)

It was nice to make the connections, and see some key people there outside of Rome. I am always impressed, and grateful for their generous involvement in Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Shabbat services at Central Synagogue

On Friday evening a few of us took up the invitation of one of the participants, Andrea, who is studying to become a Cantor, to join her at the synagogue where she would be singing.

The service was breathtakingly beautiful, reverential, and joyfilled. There was no question of the presence of the Spirit in that place. The first impression truly was the happiness, the genuine joy of all involved in worship. Three points in particular stood out.

First, the music. Granted, we may have been biased, knowing our friend was singing, but it was truly outstanding. Andrea also sang the reading from the torah scroll, which was enchanting.

The clergy, rabbis and cantors, throughout the service each had a role and shared as often as not, it never felt as if one person only was leading the service, but the whole team. If lex orandi, lex credendi applies in Judaism as well, the ‘ecclesiology’ expressed here was healthier than many churches I have been to! And they were the first we noticed to seem truly at peace, and filled with joy, to be here welcoming in the Sabbath.

The procession of the Sefer Torah, after being removed from the ark (tabernacle), was a brilliant demonstration of both. With great reverence and joy, lively music, and smiles, the scroll was brought around the sanctuary, giving everyone a chance to touch it with their prayer books, before being brought up to the bimah (altar) for the proclamation. It made such a counterpoint to the Eucharistic processions of Holy Thursday or Corpus Christi, the most obvious comparable ritual, which are so often somber and solemn. Both so reverent, yet so very different in emotive response.

Friends and Fun

Before the conference, some of us coming from Rome stayed at Alma Matthews House, run by the United Methodist Women, serves as a residence and meeting venue for non-profit organizations. Beautifully situated in the West Village, it was a wonderful place to stay that I would highly recommend for anyone staying in Manhattan on Church business. You just have to be there somehow connected to a non-profit.

After the conference, some of us stayed at Leo House, a Catholic guest house in Chelsea I was introduced to last year. The facilities and neighborhood are not quite as nice as those at Alma House, but there is a chapel on site and a good breakfast buffet. They are planning major renovations, however, and I suppose after those it will be of a similar standard. The hospitality at both places was appreciated!

During the week itself, our last night at the Isabella Freedman center, we had a campfire, and I got to instruct David (Mexico), Eveline (Netherlands), and others on proper S’Mores techniques, having finally discovered a truly unique American food.

I had the opportunity to meet up with my college roommate, Liam, as he joined some of the participants for dinner and a night of showing us around the city that never sleeps. Probably our favorite stop of the evening was the inelegantly named “Burp Castle”. Billing itself as a “Temple of Beer Worship” murals inside depict monks and mendicants in various scenes with their brews. A rotating tap of monastic and other import brews is excellent, and the rule of the house is that a certain level of quiet must be maintained to appropriately enjoy the beer, and conversation, without getting drowned out. No music, and the bartender actually shushed people regularly. Not unlike the ambiance of the Sistine chapel, but with beer. Never enough time, but I am so grateful to get an evening with a longtime friend, and introduce him to others who mean so much to me!

On Saturday, another local friend, Courtney, gave a walking tour of southern manhattan, showed us the 9-11 memorial site, and brought us up north for an excellent Mexican dinner and broadway show. Only a pity she left for home before she could join us spend the rest of the evening on a rooftop terrace bar just under the Empire State Building.

Two friends in particular i missed were Sr. Lorelei Fuchs, SA and Rabbi Robbie Harris, for scheduling reasons or my own disorganization and procrastination. Next year in Jerusalem… or New York!

That being said, i established new contacts, discovered energetic your leaders from both religions, i now count several new friends… and not just on Facebook.

Catholic-Jewish Emerging Leadership Conference

Catholics and Jews: Our Common Values, Our Common Roots
Second Catholic-Jewish Emerging Leadership Conference

My first chance to participate in a national ecumenical conference was almost exactly ten years ago, in May 2002. Five years later, I was invited to present in a plenary session at the 50th Anniversary of Faith and Order in the US, at Oberlin. Last week, I gave my first plenary presentation at an international, Vatican-sponsored interreligious dialogue.

Forty scholars and religious leaders under the age of forty, from a dozen countries, were gathered at the invitation of the Holy See’s Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews  and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC).  The nexus of these two groups is the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC). The bulk of our meeting took place at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in northwest Connecticut, with a day of meetings in New York City. Before and after, a few of us were able to enjoy the city itself, for some informal sharing and reunions – already, five of the other participants were friends or colleagues from Europe and the States.

As is usually the case with such things, the best dialogue and exchange tended to happen between the official agenda, as good as it was. But the former is always inspired by the latter, and this was a good model for developing leadership in dialogue for the reason that it allowed the ‘emerging leadership’ to actually engage in the conversation. The leaders of the two delegations, Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, president of IJCIC, and Fr. Norbert Hofmann, SDB, secretary of the Holy See’s Commission, were present throughout the conference but aside from their role in introducing the history and context, largely stepped back and served as advisors and guides.

Contrast this to other experiences of academic conferences where the ‘emerging generation’ of ecumenists, religious leaders, et al., are invited to attend and even give a presentation on topic, but the conversation is still largely dominated by established authorities, and may be about the dialogues, but does not allow for an actual dialogue to take place. To put it another way, the agenda of this conference was modeled after an official dialogue at the highest level, in many ways, including the topical presentation of papers on both sides on a given issue, discussion and break out groups.

The schedule also managed very well to provide the necessary background for those who were new to dialogue, as well as keep things interesting for the veterans among us. Some of the Jews present had never heard of Nostra Aetate, and some of the Catholics had not known about Dabru Emet. Others, like the Russell Berrie Fellows in attendance, had made a study of the dialogue and already were familiar with a wide range of thought on the dialogue.

Our first day was basically introductory, with presentations on the Commission, IJCIC, and the ILC and an opening presentation on “The Rise and Development of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity” by Prof. Schiffman. There were three major elements of the recurring agenda, which were the plenary presentations, the working groups, and the resource sharing workshops.

The plenaries were the official presentations, consisting of two 30-45 minute presentations, one Catholic and one Jewish, followed by between 30 – 60 minutes of questions and discussion, depending on the length of the presentations.

The first plenary was “Catholic-Jewish Relations post-Vatican II” with presentations by Rabbi A. James Rudin and Fr. Lawrence Frizzell. On day two, the second plenary was “Men, Women, and the Family” offered by Dr. Adena Berkowitz and Fr. W. Jerome Bracken, CP. The third plenary explored “Religion in Public Culture”, with yours truly for the Catholics, and Marc Stern, Esq., of the AJC for the Jewish side.

The working groups followed explored pre-determined themes of the conference, and met twice. People could stay with the same group both times, or rotate. These explored the themes of Justice and Charity; Religious Prejudices and Responses to Hate Crimes; Religion and Secular Society; the Role of Religious Leadership. I was asked to facilitate the last, along with a young rabbi serving as university chaplain at Leeds in the UK, though to be honest, there was not a lot of facilitating needed with this group!

The resource sharing workshops were opportunities for participants to raise issues and share from their own experience. As an example, Eveline van der Ham and David Angeles-Garnica, with the help of Andrea Ponzone, led a presentation on their experience at the Lay Centre, “Living in interfaith community” which they summed up with three key points: pray together, play together, and ‘prost’ together.

We spent one long day in Manhattan, dressed in business garb at nearly 100 degrees, I was reminded how much more manageable this is when nearly every building and form of transport is well air conditioned, a luxury not often found in Rome!

Our first appointment was with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, at his residence, and with his ecumenical/interreligious officer. His eminence came in and was literally kissing babies (well, the one baby present), and shaking hands (of literally everyone in the room). “He’s the Bill Clinton of the Catholic Church” was whispered in one corner, so stereotypically the American politician, presented 15 minutes of remarks without notes and with lots of enthusiasm. We were also given a short tour of the cathedral, including a visit to the crypt and the tomb of Ven. Fulton Sheen.

We then travelled to Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship, and met with Chancellor Arnold Eisen, Prof. Burt Visotzky (Midrash), and David Wachtel, the head of the rare books collection, which includes manuscript letters from Maimonides, and part of the Gutenburg bible, among so many other truly rare Hebrew texts. It was encouraging to hear Prof Visotzky even mention this year’s John Paul II Lecture given by Cardinal Koch in Rome.

After this we visited a reform synagogue known for its outreach work, Congregation Rodeph Sholom  and north america’s first jewish congregation, the Sephardic orthodox congregation Shearith Israel, better known as the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue.

That’s just the official program… more to come, from Shabbat services to S’mores-making lessons.

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