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Judaism and Christianity in Islamic Perspective

The Russell Berrie Foundation supports an enormous amount of activity in a wide variety of fields. The John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue and the Russell Berrie Fellowships at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome are just the most recent, though positioned to have profound impact on the life of the church.

One aspect of the Foundation’s work in Rome is the sponsorship of an annual John Paul II Lecture in Interreligious Understanding, featuring a prominent scholar or religious leader. The inaugural lecture was delivered in 2008 by Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and the second was offered in 2009 by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich. After two years of leading pastors, this year’s lecture was delivered by a world-class scholar, Dr. Mona Siddiqui of the University of Glasgow.

Professor Mona Siddiqui

The original date for the lecture was to take place the day before our Mosque visit, but was delayed to volcanic activity! It turned out to be a good way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, however!

The Berrie Fellows had the privilege to lunch with Dr. Siddiqui, Ms. Angelica Berrie, and the members of the Foundation and the IIE who were in town for the event yesterday after the seminar on Mary in Islam. In an unexpected re-enactment of the wisdom from Luke 14.1-11, I had situated myself at the end of the table to allow others near the honored guest, and after some shuffling I suddenly found myself placed between Dr. Siddiqui and Ms. Berrie – two fascinating women! And both so very approachable, a gift I appreciate more and more the longer I am in service to the Church.

During today’s featured lecture, Dr. Siddiqui addressed the history of interaction between Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Islamic perspective, and focusing on the religious rather than the political realities of our day. The importance of dialogue is something she underlined, not for the sake of conversion, but for the sake of compassion.

“Furthermore, many in the West are aware that despite media frenzy at times, dialogue is not a necessity, it is an option even a privilege. Inter religious work can be a symbol of unity across civilisations and it can also reverberate amongst the followers of the faith. But it works best when there is both text and context. There are many Muslims and Christians who remain convinced that dialogue is fundamentally flawed, not just theologically but also in practical terms. How can Muslims and Christians talk about the same God when they hold such different understandings of the same God? If dialogue is not directed at conversion to Christ or to the event of the Qur’an, what is its real purpose?  …

Inter religious work has never been about implicit or explicit conversion. As a Muslim who has lived most of her life in the West, I have learnt that faith speaks to faith in many ways. Dialogue has been a process of learning and accepting, of questioning and appreciating, of self-doubt and humility. Most importantly it has been to understand that talking about a common humanity demands much generosity in the face of practical difference.”

 The full transcript is available here, and a video of the lecture here.


There’s a new doc’ in town

My fellow Russell Berrie Fellow Matthew John Paul Tan was celebrated for two significant milestones at Rome’s most famous Austrian restaurant today. My Singaporean-Aussie classmate was officially awarded his Ph.D. in theology from the Australian Catholic University on Friday, just two days before his 30th birthday today.

Though he put in several years of effort toward the first achievement, credit is largely due elsewhere for the second. Nevertheless we threw him a party for both.

Actually, he invited us. So it is not so much that we threw a party for him as that we showed up for his party. But we brought gifts!

Well, a gift, anyway. Moving on…

Cantina Tirolese is famous, at least among Vatican-watching theology nerds, as the favorite haunt of the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger, whose presence was frequent enough that he had a perpetually reserved booth. I do not know if he has been back since his election five years ago, though. Maybe they deliver?

Congrats again to Matthew!  

Dr. Matthew John Paul Tan

Angelicum Leads the Way in Rome for Eucharistic Adoration

Rome Reports is an English-language news program based in Rome, and broadcasting to several countries. They recently did a feature of the Angelicum, apparently the only Pontifical Univeristy in Rome with daily Eucharistic Adoration, including interviews with familiar faces: Benedict Croell, OP; Matthew John Paul Tan, PhD (another Russell Berrie Fellow); and Jill Alexy, M.Div. (fellow Notre Dame alumn).

You can watch the clip here:

Holy Land Seminar Day #5

The Shalom Hartman Institute, which is serving as our academic centre for the morning sessions of our seminar in the Holy Land, was founded by Orthodox Rabbi and Professor David Hartman in the 1970’s and named for his father. It serves as what we (Christians) would call an ecumenical centre of education, bringing together Jews from almost the entire range of thought and life – Modern Orthodox, Traditional, Reform, Liberal, Secular, and a few that defy customary categories. It serves as a centre for the continuing education of Rabbis, has two high schools (boys and girls separate), and several research fellows and innovative education programs, including the intensive week seminar that serves as part of my Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies.

This morning’s first session was with the founder’s son, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, continuing the themes of membership and identity, the differences between these questions being addressed in Israel and in North America (where the largest population of Jews live). We then engaged the question of feminism in Judaism, especially as it is being dealt with in Orthodox Jewish congregations, and how it relates to other movements.

An example: There is a mitzvot,  one of the religious laws, that 10 men are required for liturgical prayer. This is traditionally interpreted such that it does not matter how many women are present, one or a hundred, you cannot begin until you have at least ten men. A Reform synagogue might say, “this is an unjust law – women are people too!” and dispense with the rule, or amend it so that ten people of either gender is sufficient for the liturgy to begin. One Orthodox congregation, by contrast, has decided instead of breaking or ignoring the law, they will honor it but add one of their own, requiring also ten women to be present before the liturgy can begin. (I would be interested to hear thoughts on this, to me, the Reform response seems more masculine, and the Orthodox more feminine!)

The afternoon we spent in the neighborhood of our hotel, known as Mt. Zion (though historically, the original reference to Zion was probably the temple mount in the City of David, and this Mt. Zion took the name later). We started at a holy site that is simultaneously holy to all three major monotheistic religions, including the Last Supper Room and Pentecost shrine, which was at one time converted to a mosque, and the Tomb of David.  

Nearby we stopped by the Church of the Dormition of Mary and the Church of St. Peter Gallicantu (the rooster sings), commemorating the denial of Christ by Peter and including what is thought to be Caiphas’ house. The organ at the church of the dormition was being tuned while we were there, adding an eerie tune to the background while meditating on the mystery of the resurrection of the body.

My courses…

Allora… people have asked, and I keep forgetting to answer. This is my fall semester lineup:

The Catholic Church in Ecumenical Dialogue
     Rev. Dr. Frederick Bliss, SM, Professor incaricatus from New Zealand

Hebrew Bible, Human Rights, and Interreligious Dialogue
      Rabbi Jack Bemporad, visiting professor from the Center for Interreligious Studies, USA

Knowing the Christian East: Encounter and Experience
     Rev. Dr. Joseph Ellul, OP, professor incaricatus from Malta

Methodism and its Dialogue with the Catholic Church
     Rev. Dr. Trevor Hoggard, Methodist Representative to the Holy See, from U.K.
     Monsignor Donald Bolen, former staff of Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, from U.K.

Philo of Alexandria and his Influence on Early Christianity
      Dr. Adam Afterman, visiting professor from Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Prophecy and Wisdom
      Rabbi Jack Bemporad, visiting professor from the Center for Interreligious Studies, USA

Reception and Receptive Ecumenism
     Rev. Dr. Frederick Bliss, SM, Professor incaricatus from New Zealand

Russell Berrie Fellowship Seminar in Jerusalem (Feb 5-13)
     Various lecturers, coordinator: Dr. Adam Afterman of Shalom Hartman Center and Hebrew University

Social Teaching in Pope John Paul II
      Various Lecturers, coordinator: Sr. Dr. Helen Alford, OP, Dean of the faculty of Social Sciences, from U.K.

Sociologia della Conoscenza (Sociology of Knowledge, in Italian)
     Dr. Bennie Callebaut, visiting professor from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Centro Pro Unione

We had our first meeting of the ecumenical section tonight, in the famous Centro Pro Unione.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj at Piazza Navona

At the Angelicum, there are four ‘Faculties’: Theology, Philosophy, Social Sciences, and Canon Law. The Theology Faculty, being by far the largest, is further divided into sections: Biblical Theology, Dogmatic Theology, Thomist Theology, Spiritual Theology, Moral Theology, and Ecumenical Theology.

By reputation, at least, the two pillars of the Angelicum are its Thomist and Ecumenical sections. Part of the reason I decided to study here, in fact, is that it is the only specifically ecumenical licentiate/doctoral program offered by a Catholic university, and one of only three in the English speaking world (the others being at the Ecumenical Institute of the WCC at Bossey, Switzerland and the Irish School of Ecumenics in Dublin).

James Puglisi, SA, Director of Centro Pro Unione

The ecumenical section is coordinated by James Puglisi, SA, the Minister General of the Franciscian Friars of the Atonement and director of the Centro Pro Unione. The Centro serves as the library for the ecumenical section, being the most complete ecumenical library in the world since its inception in 1962. It is located in the Collegium Innocenzium, part of the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj overlooking Piazza Navona. Originally the guest house for the family, part of it then became a house of hospitality named Foyer Unitas, run by the Ladies of Bethany, and the rest a place for the ecumenical observers at Vatican II to gather, named the Centro Pro Unione.

The main meeting room is therefore steeped in history, both Roman and ecumenical. As the guest house of the noble family, this room is where Vivaldi first performed his “four seasons” after the premier in Florence. Franz List and Caruso played here, and so many others. During Vatican II, this room, with a grand view of the Piazza and its fountain, is where the ecumenical observers would gather with bishops and peritii for their weekly briefing, and where some of the most important texts of the council were born or developed: Gaudium et Spes, Unitatis Redintegratio, Nostra Aetate, and Dignitatis Humanae.

There were 21 members of the section present or accounted for, and I am not sure how many others there may be. Six are from Africa, four from India, three each from the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and North America, one Italian and one Australian. One-third are lay, and two-thirds are priests; no religious and no deacons. There is currently only one woman (and she is technically in Philosophy, not Theology, but as a Russell Berrie Fellow is included in the section too).

A dialogue of hospitality

We had a few guests for dinner at the Lay Centre tonight.

That would be the “necessary but insufficient” description. Allow me to elaborate.

Ambassador Tony Hall

Ambassador Tony Hall

Former U.S. Special Representative to the U.N. agencies in Rome (and former U.S. Representative), Ambassador Tony Hall, his wife Janet, their daughter Jyl and her husband Ryan joined us for dinner. Apparently during their years in Rome, Mrs. Hall was a regular participant of the Centre’s ongoing formation program, the Vincent Pallotti Institute, and she and Ambassador Hall became regular guests and friends of the Lay Centre.

Now back home in the States, they were in Rome for a few days and were able to stop by to see the new location and meet the new members of the community. Ambassador Hall shared with us some reflections on his dedication to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in our world, and gave witness to the fact that it was his faith in Christ, and the conviction of the Gospel, that moved him to spend so much of his life in service to those most in need.

 Jyl and Ryan – who, as it turns out, is a native of Bellingham, WA –came across the Adriatic from Macedonia where they are involved in a ministry sponsored by Faith and Learning International. Between sports and art, they are reaching hundreds of youth in the context of a broader outreach in the Balkans. You can read their blog here:

Daniel Roberts, Dr. Adam Afterman, AJ, Naomi Schenck

Daniel Roberts, Dr. Adam Afterman, AJ, Naomi Shank

We were also honored to have Ms. Naomi Shank, director of the Russell Berrie Fellowship program, Mr. Daniel Roberts, director of the Institute for International Education’s Europe Office (IIE), and Dr. Adam Afterman of Hebrew University and the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. As you know, my studies at the Angelicum are being funded by one of the Russell Berrie Fellowships, which is coordinated through the IIE, and a part of our fellowship is a seminar in the Holy Land coordinated by Dr. Afterman and the Hartman Institute, so it was a particularly welcome opportunity for me to put faces with the names of those responsible for my grant.

Finally, complete with Caribinieri escort, the newly appointed U.S. Special Representative to the U.N. agencies in Rome, Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, joined us just as Ambassador Hall was beginning his after dinner remarks. Having just arrived to her post the same day I arrived in Rome, not quite two weeks ago, that she was willing to find time to join us was indicative both to the Ambassadors own commitment to interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue and reconciliation, and to the value of the Lay Centre in the life of Rome as a place where the dialogues of life, charity, and hospitality coincide with the dialogue of truth.

Ambassador Ertharin Cousin

Ambassador Ertharin Cousin

For those who do not know – and I certainly did not – the U.S. mission to the U.N. Agencies in Rome is our relationship with the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. It is also responsible for overseeing U.S. participation in the International Development Law Organization, the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law, and the International Center for the Study and Preservation of Cultural Property.

A.J. Boyd

CNS photo Easter Vigil 2018

Easter Vigil 2018 (Credit Catholic News Service)

Originally from the Seattle area and with nearly a decade of ministry experience there, I currently teach theology and religious studies for a pontifical seminary and various U.S. and U.K. study-abroad programs in Rome, specializing in ecclesiology, ecumenism, comparative religion and interreligious dialogue,  and the Church of Rome.

I moved to Rome in 2009 as a Russell Berrie Fellow in Interreligious Studies. After two years of full time study, I was asked to staff the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue and direct the Fellows and visiting faculty in Rome. While in that role I started my doctorate and began teaching, both in 2013. In the last seven years I have taught an average of four courses a semester at three different institutions, while slowly plugging away at the dissertation I meant to finish back in 2016. My record is nine courses, at four institutions, in one semester. I do not advise it.

In addition to teaching, and three years at the John Paul II Center, I have also worked on staff at The Catholic University of America Rome Program and the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, been a translator, and occasional academic guide in Rome for visiting university faculty, graduate students, and undergrad programs.

I have been a Fellow of the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue (Vienna), the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas (Rome), and a visiting scholar or researcher at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute (Jerusalem), the Shalom Hartman Institute (Jerusalem), the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University (Wales), and Aristotle University in Thessaloniki (Greece).

I am currently on the board of directors for the Boy Scouts of America Transatlantic Council, and previously on both the board of directors of the University of Notre Dame Alumni Association, and the pastoral council of Caravita Catholic Community in Rome.

[This blog, formerly named “Pro Unione”, does not represent the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, though naturally i am a fan. I actually picked the name of the blog before moving to Rome and encountering the center, but for the same reasons.]

The Great Mosque of Rome and the Little Community of Sant’Egidio

Rome Mosque, interior

American Dominican Robert Christian joined us to begin the day with the Eucharist. One of my professors at the Angelicum, Fr. Christian and I share a ministry in common – for a few months at the beginning of our service to the church, we each served as campus ministers in the Archdiocese of Seattle. He, at the Newman Center at University of Washington for a few months in 1985 and me at the Shalom Center at Western Washington university for a few months in 2003. His specialty is St. Thomas and sacramental theology, and is an excellent preacher.

We spent the morning at the Great Mosque of Rome, lead by former Lay Centre resident Mustafa Cenap Aydin of Turkey, and co-founder of the Istituto Tevere Centre for Dialogue. Unlike the synagogue and the many churches of Rome, the mosque is well outside of the historic centre and difficult to get to without a car. The design incorporates colors of classical Rome, familiar Arabic elements, and modern adaptations, including pillars in five parts to recall the five pillars of the Islamic faith and call to mind palm trees that might be found in Mecca. Various nations contributed parts of the mosque, from the careful mosaic to the suras encircling the worship area. The use of hidden natural light and the local colors mix with the exotic elements to provide a meditative space that can handle 2500 worshipers.

Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere: AJ, Omar, Claudia, Bovas, Peter, Gracey, Michael

Our afternoon brought us back to the centre and across the river to PISAI – the Pontifical Institute for the Study of Arabic and Islam, where president Fr. Miguel Ayuso-Guixot, a Spanish Comboni Missionary of the Heart of Jesus gave an historical and theological overview of the encounter between Christianity and Islam. One of the oft-repeated metaphors of the week was one that Padre Miguel spent a few moments on – we are not looking for a “melting-pot” so much as a “mixed salad” when it comes to interreligious dialogue.

After a meander through the streets of trastevere, we met with Dr. Paolo Mancinelli of the Sant’Egidio community, one of Church’s best known lay movements, whose focus areas are direct work with the poor, peace and justice, dialogue and prayer. Paolo introduced us a little more to the work of the community, including Pope Benedict’s recent lunch with the community at their soup kitchen near Sant’Egidio.

We concluded the evening with evening prayer with the community at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, a 12th century church built atop the foundations of its 4th century former self. Around the corner was diner at Trattoria degli Amici, a now-familiar restaurant run by Sant’Egidio community and disabled friends. Good food and good company always make for an excellent discussion!

Santa Maria in Trastevere, interior

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