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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.
Assisi 2011: The pilgrims
The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, in collaboration with the new Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue, planned a day trip to Assisi on 27 October 2011 to join Pope Benedict XVI and world religious leaders – and a few secular agnostics – in a day of pilgrimage toward peace.
Our group included seven from the Lay Centre, six Russell Berrie Fellows and alumni, and one who could count for both. Additionally, we were joined by Rev. Tom Ryan, CP, of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Anna Maria Kloss, wife of the Austrian Ambassador to the Holy See; and seven other pontifical university students, including two from the Gregoriana’s late Interdisciplinary Center for the study of Religion and Culture.
We were 24 people representing 16 countries, including: Austria, Belarus, Bosnia i Herzegovina, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Turkey, the U.S., and Venezuela.
Our day began at 0500, enough time to get up and ready for an 0600 departure by tourbus, for the 3 hour drive to Assisi. At a coffee break on the way, we ran into the Turkish Ambassador to the Holy See. After arrival in Assisi we met up with our local guide and Lay Centre alumna, Lori King; Dr. Marian Diaz and staff of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.
The schedule of the day was relatively light. At 1030 the morning session at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in the valley below Assisi proper, lasted for a little under two hours. We then made our way up the hill to a restaurant near the Basilica of Santa Chiara (St. Clare) for lunch. After lunch a leisurely stroll took us to the other end of town, to join a World Youth Day in miniature going on in the lower piazza before the delegates arrived. The closing event started at 1630, and was over in time for us to get a quick pizza and be on the road to Rome by 2000.
Assisi was, if anything, quieter than many of my visits. Expecting large crowds for the event, most who did not have tickets stayed away, so in fact there was just a right amount – those with tickets admitted into the venues, and then only locals from Assisi and nearby towns lining the roadways or in the piazza outside the church. It was a welcome change from the unruly hordes that accompany papal events in Rome. Inside the basilica in the morning, we were seated barely 15 meters from the platform, though at an obscure angle. In the afternoon, the lowere piazza was filled, but it is not very large, and we were seated at just the place where the pope, patriarch, and archbishop disembarked their shuttle.
At one point, just before the delegates arrived for the afternoon program, one of our company had gone looking for water. We wanted to find him before it was too late to re-enter the piazza, but were barred from exiting by security as the delegates who were coming on foot were about to arrive. As we watched the nearly 300 religious delegates enter the piazza, wondering where Muhammad had gone, there he comes in the middle of the delegates procession, engaged in deep conversation with a professor from Sarajevo! It looked so natural, that security did not even think to stop him. It was classic, and again, left me wishing I had had a working camera with me!
In the end, the trip came together wonderfully, especially in that most of it was put together in only a week. It is a once in a decade event, made well worth it with the companionship of friends and colleagues in dialogue.
Assisi 2011: Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace
“Assisi alone is enough reason to beatify Pope John Paul II” was the headline of the Catholic Herald in the UK last April, a fortnight before the late pope was approved for veneration on the calendar of the diocese of Rome and in Poland as one of the “Blessed”. Karol Wojtyła became a pope of many firsts, and John Allen, Jr. has recently quipped that Joseph Ratzinger has become a pope of seconds – but that these second times can be as important as the first.
In part, this is because it gives certain sustainability to an event or program, showing that it was not a personal proclivity of the past pope, doomed to die with him. This has been true of World Youth Day, and now of the Assisi pilgrimage for peace.
Another aspect is this: Pope Wojtyła was an actor, a master of stage and screen. He had the timing and the panache to make big waves with spectacular images and actions. One curial cardinal was asked, at a meeting of his dicastery, “When will we see some of these grand images of [the pope’s] turn into policy?” The cardinal leaned to his secretary and was overheard to say, “Come si dice ‘senza fiato’ in inglese? (How do you say, ‘we are out of breath’ in English?) … We can barely keep up with him!”
The current bishop of Rome is a theologian, a teacher, and an introvert. He takes a few of these grand points, and is digging deeper, giving them ‘staying power’ in the system and with reflection. In the process, he is adding his own spin on things, too. Much ado was made of the fact that this time around, the fourth gathering of interreligious leaders to Assisi for the cause of peace, there would be no ‘common prayer’ so that not even the most rigorous of the right-wing could cry foul (or so it was thought).
Never mind that there was never ‘common prayer’ in the first case, either. Coming together to pray is different than coming to pray together. In 1986, the day concluded with a series of prayers, each religious group leading its own prayer, while other participants looked on in respectful silence. It was close enough that even Ratzinger was reserved about the appropriateness at the time.
(In the annals of the bizarre, and as a reminder of how much of Italian journalism at the time was about inflammatory rhetoric more than fact, one Italian reporter made claims that African animists sacrificed a chicken on the altar of the Basilica of Santa Chiara, inciting charges of sacrilege and syncretism. The fact that the basilica was closed and no such act ever took place does not stop certain elements from bringing it up from time to time to discredit the Spirit of Assisi and Pope John Paul II.)
This year, the day started at the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli with a series of 10 scheduled talks on peace, after an introduction from Cardinal Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which organized this year’s event. The appeals were offered by four Christians, followed by five non-Christian religious leaders, and one ‘non-believer’. There was a confused moment as the apparent Muslim guest was brought to the lectern, refused the notes he was offered, and went on to explain in Arabic that he was not the person listed on the program, but offered a reflection anyway. Only after the last scheduled speaker was the original Muslim representative produced to deliver his address; I still do not know who the first Muslim presenter was or what else he said.
Before the day, Fr. Tom had asked what language the day would be presented in. Based on my experiences in Rome for major liturgies and events, I indicated Italian, with only smatterings of others. I was wrong. Throughout the day, the three cardinals all spoke in English. In the morning, it was clear that efforts were made to be as universally understood as possible: English was used by the Anglican, WCC, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, African animist religious representatives. French was spoken by the Orthodox and agnostic. The Buddhist representative spoke in Korean, and the unplanned Muslim speaker was in Arabic. In the afternoon, native languages were used, and worth noting that Arabic was not just “the Muslim language” but also that of the Syrian Orthodox and the Lutheran representatives.
Instead of a series of prayers lead by different religious groups, this time the afternoon session in the lower piazza of the Basilica San Francesco included a series of solemn commitments to peace by assorted religious leaders. This was introduced by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and lead by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I. Ten religious leaders and another non-believer made their solemn commitments, followed by an address of Pope Benedict XVI, and closed with an invitation to exchange a sign of peace by Cardinal Kurt Koch of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews).
There is no question that it was a beautiful day, and inspiring simply to bring all of these people together as a witness for peace, the positive contribution of people of faith to the world, and even of the potential to overcome the modern myth of a necessary animosity between “people of faith” and “people of science” – ie, secularity.
Yet, there also is no question in my mind that something was lost with the over-emphasized intentional lack of prayer. How can a ‘pilgrimage’ be true to its nature without prayer? How can you gather religious leaders together, and tell them not to pray? This year, there were not even the sequestered opportunities for prayer that marked the last such event, in 2002, held in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, much less the series of prayers offered in public that marked the first event 25 years ago.
There was a moment of silence in the afternoon session for everyone to “pray or commit their thoughts to peace” – on one hand, very hospitable for even those who do not pray. On the other, I think the type of prayer offered in 1986 lends itself less to accusations of syncretism (exaggerated in either case), where each tradition is allowed to be true to itself, rather than having a single, mixed, everybody-do-what-you-want moment or prayer and positive thoughts.
Some of the speakers offered prayers spontaneously as part of their delivery, others quoted scriptures.
For our own part, an unplanned opportunity presented itself. In what must be a first for a papal event, the closing ceremony actually finished half an hour early, and the restaurant we planned for a quick pizza before returning to Rome was not yet open. With half an hour to kill, our group split in various directions, some to shop, some to wander, some to pray. About ten of us wandered up to the 13th century Church of Santo Stefano, a beautifully simple church whose bells were said to have miraculously pealed at the moment of Francis’ death.
As the Christians prayed in the front of the church, some of our Muslim pilgrims prepared for their own evening prayer, at the back of the church. As Christians finished, instead of walking out past the praying Muslims, most stopped and waited as respectful observers. It was just a few minutes, it was spontaneous, and it made the day a genuine pilgrimage of truth, for peace.
Return to Rome
Time Flies. Two years on the Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies have come and gone. For those who know me well, it is unsurprising that my two major goals here – learn Italian and write my thesis – are still works in progress, despite a number of other accomplishments.
I am returning for a third year to the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, Rome’s pre-eminent collegio for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free lay students. Which is, basically, anyone who cannot play on a pontifical university football (soccer) team for the annual Clericus Cup – but I digress.
Only two of us, aside from director Donna Orsuto and assistant Robert White, are back for a third consecutive year: the other being my newly-wed friend and next-door neighbor from Morelia, Mexico, David. Others who were here last year, or at least part of the year, include Muhamed (Bosnia), Marija (Croatia), and Julia (Hong Kong).
In total, we have citizens of 16 countries this year:
Belarus, Bosnia, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, and the U.S.A.
Religiously we are:
- 1 Secular Jew
- 3 Muslims (2 Sunni, 1 Shi’a)
- 4 Orthodox Christians (Belarusian, Georgian, Romanian, and Serbian Churches)
- 13 Catholic Christians (12 Latin, 1 Syro-Malabar)
This year I also start a new role continuing the relationship with the Russell Berrie Foundation, through the Institute for International Education, in the form of a graduate assistantship at the new John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue, housed at the Angelicum.
The first month back in Italy consisted of jet lag, a severe cold, orientation week for new Lay Centre residents, and then orientation week for new Russell Berrie Fellows. The tesina awaits. There are a few highlights I will be, ah, highlighting shortly.
Lay Centre Online
The Lay Centre is expanding its web-presence, on the occasion of its 25th year. Part of the reason for my relative dearth of posts in the last weeks is that I have been preparing some for publication on the official site, which can be found here: http://www.laycentre.org/blog/ They will be appearing as soon as we upload the relevant pictures!
While I will continue to include some reflections on Lay Centre events here on my own personal blog – along with what I hope to be an increasing share of time on theological, pastoral, and ecumenical entries – this new blog will serve as the official venue for “what’s going on in the life of the Lay Centre” and will be a joint project of various contributors, including Donna, Robert, and myself on a regular basis.
You may note the new look and feel of the Lay Centre website, and other additions, including a new forum for students, alumni, and friends to share messages and information. You will also find links to news and events, even a Vatican Radio feature on the Lay Centre (including a brief interview with yours truly). There is now also a Lay Centre Facebook page. Friends and alumni are invited to join us there, if you are a denizen of the social network.
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.
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).
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.
“The Reception of Guests”, Rule of Benedict §53
Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,
for He is going to say,
“I came as a guest, and you received Me” (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.
As soon as a guest is announced, therefore,
let the Superior or the brethren meet him
with all charitable service.
And first of all let them pray together,
and then exchange the kiss of peace.
For the kiss of peace should not be offered
until after the prayers have been said,
on account of the devil’s deceptions.
In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing,
let all humility be shown.
Let the head be bowed
or the whole body prostrated on the ground
in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.
After the guests have been received and taken to prayer,
let the Superior or someone appointed by him sit with them.
Let the divine law be read before the guest for his edification,
and then let all kindness be shown him.
The Superior shall break his fast for the sake of a guest,
unless it happens to be a principal fast day
which may not be violated.
The brethren, however, shall observe the customary fasts.
Let the Abbot give the guests water for their hands;
and let both Abbot and community wash the feet of all guests.
After the washing of the feet let them say this verse:
“We have received Your mercy, O God,
in the midst of Your temple” (Ps.47:10).
In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
for as far as the rich are concerned,
the very fear which they inspire
wins respect for them.
Let there be a separate kitchen for the Abbot and guests,
that the brethren may not be disturbed when guests,
who are never lacking in a monastery,
arrive at irregular hours.
Let two brethren capable of filling the office well
be appointed for a year to have charge of this kitchen.
Let them be given such help as they need,
that they may serve without murmuring.
And on the other hand,
when they have less to occupy them,
let them go out to whatever work is assigned them.
And not only in their case
but in all the offices of the monastery
let this arrangement be observed,
that when help is needed it be supplied,
and again when the workers are unoccupied
they do whatever they are bidden.
The guest house also shall be assigned to a brother
whose soul is possessed by the fear of God.
Let there be a sufficient number of beds made up in it;
and let the house of God be managed by prudent men
and in a prudent manner.
On no account shall anyone who is not so ordered
associate or converse with guests.
But if he should meet them or see them,
let him greet them humbly, as we have said,
ask their blessing and pass on,
saying that he is not allowed to converse with a guest.
Tre Fontane and Abbot Edmund – A Day of Reflection
The year officially started with a week of orientation activities at the Lay Centre, with the community half comprised of returning residents and half of new members. Robert White, our assistant director and patristic scholar, lead a couple of guided walks around the city and the neighbourhood. House meetings included topics ranging from the sharing of life and responsibilities, prayer in community to living with diverse faith traditions and the psychology of building healthy community life. Felix Körner, SJ and Tim Costello, SM of the Gregorian joined us on different nights to add their wisdom to the discussions.
The week culminated with a day of reflection spent at the Casa San Bernardo at Tre Fontane and lead by Abbot Edmund of the Benedictine Abbey at St. Paul Outside the Walls. Tre Fontane is the site where Paul was martyred and where, according to pious legend, after he was decapitated his head bounced three times. At each place where his head hit the ground, a spring welled up. One of the churches on the site was constructed over the three springs, which are each commemorated with their own altar featuring a relief of the Apostle’s head. Nevermind the fact that pre-Christian pagans had already built shrines on the site of the three fountains…
The church, it is interesting to note, has two main altars on the axis, over which are depictions of the martyrdom of St. Peter on one end and St. Paul on the other. Even here in this place of the martyrdom of Paul, his co-patron of Rome seems to have gained the upper hand as all the chairs are oriented to the altar of Peter rather than Paul!
Three churches and a retreat centre share the grounds with the Cistercian abbey. In addition to the Church of San Paul of the Three Fountains are the abbey church of Sts. Anastasias and Vincent, and the church of Santa Maria Scala Coeli. The Benedictines and the Trappists are both involved in various ways with the site, which includes among its various activities the raising of the sheep which are shorn on St. Agnes’ Day to prepare the pallia presented to Metropolitans on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul by the bishop of Rome.
Abbot Edmund Power, OSB, lead our day of prayer and reflection around the theme of Hospitality as Spirituality according to St. Paul and to St. Benedict.
Hospitality is reciprocal, not just social but sacred. This can be missed in the host-guest relationship in English, but in Italian the same word is used for both: Ostpite. Recieving hospitality is as sacred a duty as offering it. Paul’s observations that “All is Grace” indicates that following the law is insufficient, we must rely on one another. Little wonder the semitic cultures put such emphasis on hospitality.
Genesis 18 gives the famous account of Abraham receiving the three figures at his tent under the Oak of Mamre. (Interestingly, today is the Feast of the Patriarch Abraham, according to the Roman Martyrology). Paul treats the topic in three places we examined:
Romans 14.1-4 –
Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
2 Cor 6.11-13 –
We have spoken frankly to you, Corinthians; our heart is open wide. You are not constrained by us; you are constrained by your own affections. As recompense in kind (I speak as to my children), be open yourselves.
Phil 4.14-20 –
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress. You Philippians indeed know that at the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, not a single church shared with me in an account of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was at Thessalonica you sent me something for my needs, not only once but more than once. It is not that I am eager for the gift; rather, I am eager for the profit that accrues to your account. I have received full payment and I abound. I am very well supplied because of what I received from you through Epaphroditus, “a fragrant aroma,” an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
We concluded with a reading and observations on the Rule of Benedict, chapter 53, which deals with the “Reception of Guests”. Benedict describes a formal, sacramental act of welcoming a guest and describes the balance between keeping the life of the community going yet making exceptions to fasting and other norms in order to make the guest be welcome. The priority he gives is clear: First the poor and pilgrims, with whom Christ is particularly received, then brothers in the faith, and others.
The Great Mosque of Rome and the Little Community of Sant’Egidio
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.
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!
Official Catholic Dialogue with Judaism and Islam
The second full day of our orientation began with a celebration of the Eucharist at the Vatican Basilica, in the Chapel of the Patrons of Europe just a few yards from the heart of the basilica, underneath the high altar. It was dedicated by Pope John Paul II in 1981 to the three first-millennium co-patrons of Europe: St. Benedict of Norcia and Sts. Cyril and Methodius of Thessaloniki. (The three second-millennium co-patrons, all women, were named in 1999.) The presider of our liturgy was Father Jess Rodriguez of the Jesuit curia, newly arrived in Rome to serve the English Secretariat of the Church’s largest religious order.
Noted art historian Elizabeth Lev joined us after the liturgy to give us a brief, but informative, insider’s tour of the basilica of St. Peter. Even for those who have been in Rome for years, something new was gleaned from her rich presentation. For me, it was the answer to one of the Eternal City’s eternal questions: “Hey Bernini, what’s with the twisted columns on the baldacchino???”
A short walk down Via della Conciliazione brought us to the offices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which for largely historical reasons, also houses the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and a presentation from German Salesian Norbert Hofmann on the “Official Catholic Dialogue with Judaism”.
An afternoon of technical details broke for two more presentations: “Analysis of Nostra Aetate: Doctrine and History” by Thomas Casey, SJ and “The Official Dialogue of the Catholic Church with Islam” with German Jesuit Felix Körner of the Gregorian University’s ISIRC. The final discussion of the evening was a dinner dialogue with U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, theologian Miguel Diaz, his wife and fellow theologian Marian Diaz, and the Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy. Their topic, understandingly, was “Diplomacy and Interreligious Dialogue”. We were joined by Drs. Armando and Adalberta Bernardini, president and vice-president of the International Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Education – and Fellow Paola’s parents.