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Year in Review

As the Year of Grace 2011 ended, I reviewed my “to write” file for the blog, and found no less than 22 pages of notes on events and ideas I had not had time to develop into full posts. Here is a list of some highlights from the last year, with links to posts if I have them and as I develop them!






  • Short visit home in the Pacific Northwest
  • Cascade Covenant Church
  • Helping my sister move: 16 hours on the road, 45 minutes unpacking the truck
  • My brother’s new house


  • Netherlands: visiting Eveline, Clare
  • New York/New Jersey: visiting Courtney, Liam, Rob
  • Lay Centre 25th Anniversary Colloquium: My paper on the laity and ecumenism


  • Archbishop Sartain of Seattle in Rome for Pallium
  • EuroPride in Rome – monastic perspectives from the hill


  • Notre Dame Chorale Concert at Sant’Ignazio: Michael and Kerri Castorano
  • Eucharistic Procession with Cardinal Marc Ouellet
  • Notre Dame Glee Club and Fr. Michael Driscoll in Rome
  • Lay Centre alumnus Theodosius Kyriakidis debuts his documentary film on Greek Christians in Asia Minor; another alumnus Mustafa Cenap Aydin of Turkey responds
  • Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald and Leijla Demiri present on Interfaith Dialogue of life
  • Beatification of JPII


  • Fr. Michael Casey, O.Cist. visits Lay Centre
  • Assisi and Florence with Courtney and co.
  • David Ford and Stephen Kepnes: The Future of Theology
  • Annual JPII Lecture David Ford on Scriptural Reasoning
  • Paschal Triduum  in Rome
  • Culture Week in Rome
  • Meeting with Fr. Norbert Hofmann


Earlier unwritten posts:

  • Cardinal Levada visits the Lay Centre
  • Springtime of Faith Summit in Rome – local presenters include two cardinals, two professors, and me!

Ideas, ongoing or upcoming:

  • Liberal and Conservative in the Church (see june 26, Feb 2)
  • Nostra Aetate, Dabru Amet, and Common Word
  • ARCIC III and Personal Ordinariates
  • Clericalism and Anti-clericalism
  • Laïcite, laity, secularism, and secularity
  • Vocations: discernment or recruiting office?
  • Catholic Education beyond parochial schools
  • “Catholic” vs. “Roman Catholic”: What’s in a Name?
  • The Bologna Process and Pontifical Universities
  • Papal honors as ecclesiological indicator
  • Liturgy Wars: Episode V – The New Translation
  • Call for a Common Easter
  • The Big Sort
  • Ecumenical Updates: Where have we got with all this dialogue?
  • Wikipedia as Courtyard of the Gentiles: A call for biographical articles on great ecumenists and other theologians
  • A Parable: The Kingdom of God is like the Electromagnetic Spectrum and it is Easier for a Colorblind Man to Pass Through 400-789 Terrahertz than to Enter it…
  • Upcoming article in Koinonia
  • Upcoming article and presentation for Assisi 2012: Ecclesiological Investigations Network conference

And finally: “The Diaconate in the International Ecumenical Dialogues: Toward an Understanding of the Deacon as Minister of Unity.” a tesina to be submitted for the License in Sacred Theology…


Assisi 2011: Pope Benedict XVI


Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Distinguished Heads and Representatives of Churches, Ecclesial Communities and World Religions,
Dear Friends,

Twenty-five years have passed since Blessed Pope John Paul II first invited representatives of the world’s religions to Assisi to pray for peace. What has happened in the meantime? What is the state of play with regard to peace today? At that time the great threat to world peace came from the division of the earth into two mutually opposed blocs. A conspicuous symbol of this division was the Berlin Wall which traced the border between two worlds right through the heart of the city. In 1989, three years after Assisi, the wall came down, without bloodshed. Suddenly the vast arsenals that stood behind the wall were no longer significant. They had lost their terror. The peoples’ will to freedom was stronger than the arsenals of violence. The question as to the causes of this dramatic change is complex and cannot be answered with simple formulae. But in addition to economic and political factors, the deepest reason for the event is a spiritual one: behind material might there were no longer any spiritual convictions. The will to freedom was ultimately stronger than the fear of violence, which now lacked any spiritual veneer. For this victory of freedom, which was also, above all, a victory of peace, we give thanks. What is more, this was not merely, nor even primarily, about the freedom to believe, although it did include this. To that extent we may in some way link all this to our prayer for peace.

But what happened next? Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since. Even if there is no threat of a great war hanging over us at present, nevertheless the world is unfortunately full of discord. It is not only that sporadic wars are continually being fought – violence as such is potentially ever present and it is a characteristic feature of our world. Freedom is a great good. But the world of freedom has proved to be largely directionless, and not a few have misinterpreted freedom as somehow including freedom for violence. Discord has taken on new and frightening guises, and the struggle for freedom must engage us all in a new way.

Let us try to identify the new faces of violence and discord more closely. It seems to me that, in broad strokes, we may distinguish two types of the new forms of violence, which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation and manifest a number of differences in detail. Firstly there is terrorism, for which in place of a great war there are targeted attacks intended to strike the opponent destructively at key points, with no regard for the lives of innocent human beings, who are cruelly killed or wounded in the process. In the eyes of the perpetrators, the overriding goal of damage to the enemy justifies any form of cruelty. Everything that had been commonly recognized and sanctioned in international law as the limit of violence is overruled. We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended “good”. In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as justification for violence.

The post-Enlightenment critique of religion has repeatedly maintained that religion is a cause of violence and in this way it has fuelled hostility towards religions. The fact that, in the case we are considering here, religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons. In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction. In response, an objection is raised: how do you know what the true nature of religion is? Does your assertion not derive from the fact that your religion has become a spent force? Others in their turn will object: is there such a thing as a common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all? We must ask ourselves these questions, if we wish to argue realistically and credibly against religiously motivated violence. Herein lies a fundamental task for interreligious dialogue – an exercise which is to receive renewed emphasis through this meeting. As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. For us the Cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put “suffering-with” (compassion) and “loving-with” in place of force. His name is “God of love and peace” (2 Cor 13:11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart, so that it truly serves as an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans.

If one basic type of violence today is religiously motivated and thus confronts religions with the question as to their true nature and obliges all of us to undergo purification, a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of God’s absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it. The enemies of religion – as we said earlier – see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence.

Yet I do not intend to speak further here about state-imposed atheism, but rather about the decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous. The worship of mammon, possessions and power is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage. The desire for happiness degenerates, for example, into an unbridled, inhuman craving, such as appears in the different forms of drug dependency. There are the powerful who trade in drugs and then the many who are seduced and destroyed by them, physically and spiritually. Force comes to be taken for granted and in parts of the world it threatens to destroy our young people. Because force is taken for granted, peace is destroyed and man destroys himself in this peace vacuum.

The absence of God leads to the decline of man and of humanity. But where is God? Do we know him, and can we show him anew to humanity, in order to build true peace? Let us first briefly summarize our considerations thus far. I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace. In this context I referred to the need for dialogue and I spoke of the constant need for purification of lived religion. On the other hand I said that the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.

In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: “There is no God”. They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”. They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force. Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.

 © Copyright 2011 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Vatican Assisi 2011 Page











Assisi 2011: The delegates

The official Christian delegates included Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, Archbishop Norvan Zakaryan of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Secretary General Olav Fyske Tveit of the World Council of Churches.

In all, there were representatives of the Orthodox Churches from the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, and the Ukrainian, Belarusian, Cypriot, Polish and Albanian churches. The Oriental Orthodox were represented by the Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch, the Armenian Apostolic Church (both Catholicossates) and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The Assyrian Church of the East was represented by the Metropolitan of India, the bishop of California and a priest.

The Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, Lutheran World Federation, World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Methodist Council, the Baptist World Alliance, World Convention of the Churches of Christ, the Mennonite World Conference, the World Evangelical Alliance, and the World Council of Churches were all represented, along with the Church of Scotland, the Disciples of Christ, the Salvation Army, and the classical Pentecostal churches.

176 representatives of non-Christian religions were present, including Reform and Orthodox Judaism; Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite and Ismaili Muslims; Hinduism (including Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma); Jainism; Zoroastrianism; Buddhism (including Shaolin, Zen, Tibetan, Theravada, Tendai, Jogye,  Jodo-Shu, and other forms); Confucianism; Taoism; Shinto; Mandaean (Gnostics); Sikh; Baha’i; traditional African, American, and Indian Religions; and “new religions” such as Tenrikyo, Ennokyo, and Myochi-kai.

Four “non-believers” were invited, a first, emphasizing Pope Benedict’s interest in the New Evanglization and his effort to engage secularism and religion on a level of common interest in the quest for truth. These included Julia Kristeva, Bulgarian-French psychoanalyst; Guillermo Hurtado, the Mexican philosopher; Walter Baier, a politician from Austria; and Remo Bodei an Italian professor of Aesthetic and philosophy.

Shi’a Muslim – Monastic Catholic Dialogue

Barely recovered from jet lag, the first event of my third year in Rome was a presentation on Muslim-Monastic dialogue at the Primatial Abbey of Sant’Anselmo on the Aventine hill.

For years, the monastic interfaith dialogue focused on the Buddhists, particularly in its Japanese Zen form, and one can remember easily the relationship of Thomas Merton and Tich Nacht Hanh. In the last decade though, there has been a general realization that we need not look so far from home, so to speak, and the Benedictines decided to initiate a dialogue with Islam… in this case, with Shi’a scholars from Qom, the study center for the Shi’a in Iran.

The public lecture was part of the schedule of the official dialogue, and our host was the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation, the Rt. Rev. Notker Wolf… also known for being a rock star. Literally. It was organized and introduced by Fr. William Skudlarek, the Secretary General of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue.

The lecturer was Abbot Timothy Wright, OSB, Delegate for Monastic-Muslim Relations, and the respondent was Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali, Director of the new International Institute for Islamic Studies in Qom – a center which focuses on brining in western students to study Shi’a theology and jurisprudence in Iran.

Abbot Timothy highlighted the common core values of monastic spirituality and Shi’a  Islam, though, to be honest, there was little that seemed to me to be particularly monastic about the spirituality he mentioned:

  1.        Affirmation of God revealed in Word
  2.       Day and night punctuated by prayer
  3.       Exercise of opened word – lectio divina, e.g.

Though, the shared lectio divina he described sounded not unlike the scriptural reasoning  programme in Cambridge and elsewhere. Yet, with the rule of Benedict as a guide, it certainly does not hurt to have monastic engagement.

Dr. Shomali responded with an affirmation that the key to good dialogue is the building up of good relationships first, in which dialogue can happen. Relationships rather than events, should drive our encounter with the other… though obviously events can provide for the beginnings and deepening of relationships with people we might not otherwise encounter.

“Dialogue is not a formality or fashion but a part of my religious obligation. Neither is it dependent on reciprocation or appreciation.  In this it is like prayer and fasting. If no one appreciates my prayer and fasting, I do not stop!”

His advice to those interested in dialogue was simply to be a good listener, and shared the story of Moses and Pharaoh from the Quran, in which Moses objects to God sending him to waste his time trying to dialogue with someone not interested in dialogue: Pharaoh.

“Go and speak softly”, instructs the Almighty, “ for even in him there is a chance of his heart being softened.”

Consider this then. The most difficult dialogue is with the person who does not think he/she needs to dialogue with anyone – the person with a hard heart. But if there is even a chance of the heart of pharaoh being turned by soft-spoken dialogue, then there remains hope for everyone. In Dr. Shomali’s words, dialogue requires you to master being a good listener and gentle, soft and wise speaker.

The decaffeinated Other


However, a closer look reveals how [progressive liberal] multicultural tolerance and respect of differences share with those who oppose immigration the need to keep others at a proper distance. “The others are OK, I respect them,” the liberals say, “but they must not intrude too much on my own space. The moment they do, they harass me – I fully support affirmative action, but I am in no way ready to listen to loud rap music.” What is increasingly emerging as the central human right in late-capitalist societies is the right not to be harassed, which is the right to be kept at a safe distance from others. A terrorist whose deadly plans should be prevented belongs in Guantánamo, the empty zone exempted from the rule of law; a fundamentalist ideologist should be silenced because he spreads hatred. Such people are toxic subjects who disturb my peace.

On today’s market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol. And the list goes on: what about virtual sex as sex without sex? The Colin Powell doctrine of warfare with no casualties (on our side, of course) as warfare without warfare? The contemporary redefinition of politics as the art of expert administration as politics without politics? This leads us to today’s tolerant liberal multiculturalism as an experience of the Other deprived of its Otherness – the decaffeinated Other.

Slavoj Zizek, if you are not familiar, is a rather atypical thinker.

I would add school Christmas concerts without Christmas songs to his list. Christmas without Christ? I am sure there are others.

An interesting quote i thought i would pass on, referenced during a presentation last week on interreligious dialogue. I am not sure it is fair to progressive liberals as it sounds more like libertarian liberals, and then there are plenty of people self-describing as liberal who would not fit either… but it does highlight the problem of tolerance if seen as a sufficient goal, and the idea of a whitewashed, bland, decaffeinated neutral zone in which no one is allowed religious or cultural expression under the guise of allowing all a safe place to be together.

A truly safe place is one in which we can be ourselves while respecting the other, not the place where we all have to give up who we are so as not to ‘inflict our religion/politics/personality’ on the other. The challenge is to be true to ourselves while being true to the other. It is not (as the right extreme would have it) that by allowing the other to be truly present we are short-changing our own self and therefore should not or cannot enter into dialogue and encounter, nor is it (as the left extreme would have it) that we must all refrain from being our true selves so that all can be present together in an empty nothingness of secular space.

Spring Studies

For those still keeping track, here are my courses for the coming semester, along with thesis writing and preparing for the lectio coram – comprehensive oral exams.

  • Catholicism in the Church: Anglican and Roman Catholic Perspectives
  • Does Doctrine Still Divide? (with Geoffrey Wainright)
  • Ecumenical Methodology II
  • Ecumenism and Canonical Structures
  • First-Century Judaism
  • From the Chalcedonian Formula of Faith to the Christological Agreements between the Catholic Church and the Pre-Chalcedonian Churches
  • The Messianic Idea in the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Shi’ite Islam and Roman Catholicism
  • Seminar: Readings in Schillebeeckx’s Christology

Final Statement

Final Statement
Fundamentalist or Responsible Citizen?
The Contribution of Religious Communities to the Formation of European Citizens.

28 November to 5 December 2010 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Our God has called us here all together, Jews, Christians and Muslims, motivated to encourage young religious people to take a more active role in public life within Europe. In light of the changing religious composition of European societies, increased xenophobia, and a trend towards excluding religion from civil discourse, our aim was to propose ways in which young religious European citizens can take a more active role in fulfilling their duties towards society as a whole.

We are concerned over the rise of extremist attitudes, sometimes identified with fundamentalism, whether religious or secular. We believe that religions, cultures and civil systems can work together towards common  objectives.

We assert that religious identity should not be excluded from the public sphere, and that in order to achieve a fairer society, people of all backgrounds and beliefs must take an equal part in civil activities.

To achieve this, we recommend:

Formal, informal and non-formal educational initiatives:

  • to raise awareness about the role of religious communities within
  • to raise awareness of civil duties within religious communities;
  • to increase understanding of different religions and perspectives;
  • to help all people to see beyond stereotypes;

Dialogue and collaboration:

  • on an individual level: getting to know each other, listening, and
    sharing life experiences;
  • between religions and secular authorities;
  • to build networks involving different religious and secular communities
    and policy influencing organisations;


  • by young religious citizens in politics, media and NGO work;
  • in setting an example, becoming involved in voluntary services.

These are activities that will need to be continued by all members of European society on a long-term basis. We must persevere towards a more committed, more responsible and more inclusive society, all together.

Sarajevo, 4th December 2010

The Jerusalem of Europe: Spirituality and Religion

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (Catholic), Sarajevo

The city of Sarajevo sits in an area that has been inhabited since the Neolithic age, with a medieval settlement in the region large enough that a cathedral was established by the early 13th century. Sarajevo as it is known today is traditionally said to be established in 1461 under Ottoman rule. It is known as the Jerusalem of Europe in part for its location between east and west, and for its concentration of major religious houses of worship in such close proximity. Within less than a square kilometer one can find the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals, the Emperor’s Mosque, and the Sephardic Synagogue, as well as other mosques and churches. We toured several during our first evening.

Buna River source, from Blagaj Tekije

On the second day of the conference, we took a bus tour through Herzegovina, visiting pilgrimage sites of each of the major religious groups. Our first stop was a Tekije (A Dervish house, like a monastery) in Blagaj, overhanging the source of the Buna River. The Tekije (or Tekke) was built in the 16th century, and also houses something rather unusual for Muslim holy places, which is a Türbe, a tomb or shrine, of two of the sheikhs who had lived here.  

Žitomislić Monastery

We then moved to the Žitomislić  monastery with its Church of the Annunciation, a community of Serbian Orthodox monks, which had been originally established in the late 16th century. It is a site of martyrdom, as well: the monks here were all killed during World War II by Axis-allied Ustaše (Croatian Revolutionary Movement) and the buildings razed. It was rebuilt after the war only to be destroyed again in 1992 during the Bosnian wars and the collapse of Yugoslavia. The most recent reconstruction began in 2002.

Međugorje church and outdoor pilgrim chapel

Međugorje was our next site. It had been pouring rain all day, and it was already dark by the time we arrived. Until the day before, I had not realized we would be coming, so I had not brushed up on the apparitions there, yet as the only Catholic theologian in the group, I was the default expert. Several people had not heard of the site, and were not familiar with the Catholic tradition of Marian apparitions, though some did know of either Lourdes or Fatima. There were few pilgrims in the church, and between the dark and the downpour we could not see or get up the hill. Since 1981, there have been claims of apparitions here, and the Holy See has not yet made a final decision regarding the site (and will not until the apparent apparitions abate), though the initial investigation by the local ordinary, concluded in 1986, was critical. The current status is that it remains open, and that no one is forbidden from going unless and until the message is determined to be false. At its best, the Church would never require anyone to believe in the messages, as general revelation ceased with the apostles, but would allow veneration.

Stari Most (Old Bridge), Mostar

Finally, we ventured to Mostar, a 15th century city known for its Stari Most (“Old Bridge”), which stood from 1566-1993 when it was destroyed by Bosnian Croat forces during the war. A new Old Bridge has been reconstructed using the same technology and local materials as the original. It was inaugurated in 2004. Since 2005 it has been on the World Heritage List. It was another great city that was unfortunate to visit in darkness and a downpour that would contribute to the flooding of the region in the days to follow. We had a pleasant local dinner and sampled Bosnian wine before heading back to Sarajevo.

Emperor's Mosque, Sarajevo

Conflict and Dialogue: Contemporary Bosnia i Herzegovina

Sarajevo at sunset

The siege of Sarajevo was contemporary with my four years in high school, 1992-96. Now, nearly fifteen years later, the city is in good shape and relations seem markedly better, but just as there are some signs of the previous destruction – a few buildings with bullet holes or shrapnel damage, some still gutted, an abandoned and burned out pickup truck, and a few Sarajevo Roses still to be seen – so too is there still some evidence of the ethnic and national tensions.

The airport is small, with a relatively short runway surrounded by residential neighborhoods, in a valley that usually includes a turbulent and foggy approach. As if this is not enough, pilots must approach in radio silence, apparently because there are still pockets of resistance whom authorities fear would take advantage of an incoming jet, intercept voice communications and give incorrect information in order to cause a crash. Outside the capital city, there are still places where you can see nationalist expression, even while within Bosnia, for example, you can see neighborhoods divided by flying Croatian and Serbian flags respectively.

The government is complicated. There are three (ethnic) constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH): the Bosniaks (mostly Muslim), Serbs (Orthodox) and Croats (Catholic). In the wake of the Dayton Accords which established the current peace (but did not set up a constitution or long term plan), the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina has a rotating national presidency of three people, one from each of the constituent peoples. The three presidents serve a four year term (elected) and rotate chairmanship of the presidency every eight months. The locals joked with us that if you walk down the street, nobody knows who the current president is, but they surely all know the UN High Representative (currently Austrian Valentin Inzko) who is responsible for overseeing the ongoing implementation of the Dayton Accords.

Further, the country is divided into three political entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, and the small Federal District of Brčko which is formally part of both the other entities but governed by neither. Further, the Federation is subdivided into ten cantons; each has its own government. Finally, the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, respectively, are distinct but not defined – Herzegovina covering the southern part of the country, the eastern half in Republika Srpska and the western half in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Sarajevo Martyrs Cemetary, courtesy Khaoula Amouri

At one point during the week, we had an evening presentation on the country and its culture, given by our local hosts and members of the planning committee, three Bosnians in their twenties. They had deliberately decided not to present on the war. As part of the younger generation, only children at the time, there is an understandable interest in moving on and focusing on the good that has come since, and also to show that the war is not the only thing to know about the country. (Our friend from Northern Ireland voiced his understanding for this approach from his own experience of having been constantly asked about the troubles there). In part, the decision had been made because there had already been some tense side discussion about one of the more horrific aspects of the conflict, which was the Srebrenica massacre, which was ruled as genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia in 2004 and confirmed as such by the International Court of Justice in 2007. Other participants had been waiting for a discussion precisely on the topic, though, and the anxiety boiled over during discussion, when it seemed as though it might not be addressed at all during the week.


It got very emotional. Had the planning committee overlooked including a discussion about the war, which would have been irresponsible, or were they trying to move on too quickly, which could appear as a false irenicism? Was Srebrenica genocide as the ICJ declared, or is that a matter of opinion – with each of the three factions in BiH having its own take in addition to the “outsider” international judgment? Is even asking that question genocide denial? One of our participants pointedly asked whether killing 6 million Chinese would count as genocide, suggesting that several historians disagree with the ICJ determination (based on the idea that genocide cannot be confined to a locality, but must target an entire ethnic group or nation), while another held that even questioning the term genocide in this case was tantamount to denying the act itself. Someone else asked whether it mattered at all what we called it, massacre or genocide, war crime or atrocity, so many deliberate killings is wrong no matter the motivation. Others were voicing shock that this could happen on European soil so recently as to be in our lifetime, after the Shoah and “never again”, even while UN peacekeepers stood by and did nothing (or could do nothing). For that matter how could a siege have lasted for so long in the modern era without direct international intervention?

I would not have wanted to be in the place of our presenters, a couple of young Bosnians in unprepared for the barrage of questions and not expert in the topic other than having lived here – but they handled it remarkably well. Some of the planning committee worried that the entire rest of the conference would be derailed by the topic, rather than focusing on the purpose that brought us together. I have rarely felt so inadequate for a discussion: I had not studied the war in depth, and am not an expert in genocide (its definition or its denial). I spent the rest of the night wandering from group to group, doing what I could just to listen to everyone, or to as many as I could. I was humbled, inspired, and moved in turn – at times I have felt that my work in dialogue can get too academic and we need to bridge the gap with the pastoral. Here, that was no problem, and my only wish was that I could have offered more.

This is what interreligious dialogue is about. The group gelled well in the first part of the week. People were open and available for conversation and challenge. It was not planned this way, but the organizers and the next morning’s presenter responded well, addressing the concerns but bringing it into the context of our work, doing so first in thespirit of prayer and then in the greater question of fundamentalism and dialogue. I know not everyone was perfectly happy, some still felt as if their voice was not heard enough, or not enough attention was given to the subject of the war and the ongoing healing, but the larger sense seemed to be that at a moment which could have tipped the rest of the week into uncomfortable irrelevance, instead we were able to bring it back together and deal with difficult questions. In the end, we were better for it.

Home group at the end of the week, courtesy Amjad Agil

Sarajevo 2010: Fundamentalist or Responsible Citizen?

Karin Kops (Estonia) addressing the conference

For the last week, I have been blessed with the opportunity to be in Sarajevo with a great group of young people from all over Europe. We gathered for a conference entitled Fundamentalist or Responsible Citizen? The Contribution of Religious Communities to the Formation of European Citizens. The sponsoring agencies included the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe (EYCE, affiliated with the WCC), the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO), and the Council of Europe. This summit marked the culmination of a three-year Campaign to Overcome Fundamentalism spearheaded by EYCE. 

I should note that “youth” means something different here than in the U.S., as anyone involved in World Youth Day would be aware. At home, especially when speaking of “youth ministry”, we are talking of teens in middle school and high school, age 12-18 or so. Over here, “youth” means university age, in its broadest implications, so the participants ranged from 20 to 35. After almost a decade of involvement in National Workshops on Christian Unity and some NCC events in the States, it was striking to be one of the older people in the room rather than one of the youngest. 

About 45 people were gathered, roughly twenty each were Christian or Muslim, and only four or five were Jewish. I think only four of us were Catholic, with Orthodox, Protestant and even pre-protestant communities represented (i.e., Moravians, Czech Brethren, and Waldensians). Most European states were represented, with the Iberian countries being the only noticeable absence. I was the only non-European, but for my European credentials I was ‘representing’ the Vatican as a pontifical university student – that is, quite unofficially. 

The highlight of the week was the other participants. My roommate was a student from Lithuania. I spent time at a British pub called “Cheers” with a theologian-staffer to the Icelandic bishops’ national office, a protestant pastor’s kid from Northern Ireland living in the Republic, and a Romanian seminarian friend who lead the planning of the whole event (and just turned 22). One of my first conversations was with a Palestinian Briton about the situation in the Holy Land, and my experiences there with the Russell Berrie Fellowship. I shared shisha with a Turkish Muslim woman living in Cairo, and burek with two Albanians from Macedonia and a Latvian who has seen more of the world than I likely ever will! And the list goes on. 

Hasan Patel, photo courtesy of Khaoula Amouri

Despite having studied in Rome for the last year, this was the first time to really talk about Europe per se with Europeans – really to listen and observe as they discussed it themselves – especially on such a relevant issue as the role of religion and secularity in nation, state, and European society. (Most of my classmates are African, Asian, and some from the Americas and what Europeans there are mostly from the east, and a minority.) 

While not an academic conference exactly, the presentations were on topic and promoted good discussion. We had a welcome from the Mufti of Sarajevo and President of the Interreligious Council (IRC), a panel with Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic representatives of the Bosnian IRC, and presentations from Bashy Quarishy of Denmark, Hasan Patel and Imam Ajmal Masroor of the UK, and Dirk Thesenvitz of Germany. At the end of the week, a subcommittee of participants collated the week’s comments and discussion and drafted a Final Statement, which was signed by all the participants. As part of that committee, I wish we had had more time, as there were a few areas that we felt could have been better phrased, but considering the actual drafting was done in about three hours, by committee for approval by the whole, it seemed to come together rather well. 

Baltic and Balkan friends, photo courtesy Kristina Jureviciute

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