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Christians in the Middle East, with Dr. Habib Malik

On Monday, Nov 5, the Social Sciences Faculty of the Angelicum hosted a lecture on Christians in the Middle East, as a kickoff event for their new Al Liqa’ Project.

History Prof. Habib Charles Malik of the Lebanese American university offered his reflections and recommendations on the Christians of the Middle East focused on the events between the Arab Spring, and the release of the Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, which was delivered during Pope Benedict’s Apostolic visit to Lebanon in September.

Prof. Malik began with the state of the question. There are about 12 million Christians in the middle East he estimates, not counting Latin immigrants, which include about 8 million Copts in Egypt, another 3 million in the Levant – Melkites, Maronite, Syriac, Greeks, Armenians, Latins and Protestants – and the Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq, a population that has been decimated since the U.S.-lead invasion of 2003. There remain less than a million.

Emigration out of the region has been going on since the advent of the 21st century, due laregely to attacks on the communities. During the raging civil war in Syria, he describes both sides – the Alawite Shi’a administration and the Salfist Sunni insurgents (and others) – as targeting Christians and attempting to pin the attacks on the opposing forces. They have become the primary targets of opportunity.

Malik was critical of the Arab Spring as a misnomer – the so-called Facebook generation of young democracy-minded types had not held together beyond the revolutions, and instead we have what he suggested to be called a ‘Salafi Spring.’ Tunisia is one of the few places he sees a genuine road to democracy, though throughout the region, the moderate Sunni voices are too often weak and unheard – and often in just as much danger as the Christians of the region, if they speak up against extremism.

Middle Eastern Christians are caught in the middle of several conflicting and potentially destructive polarities in the region:

  • Sunni vs. Shiite: With a rough north-south border running through Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the most explosive region of volatility around this divide is in Syria, with a small Alawite (Shi’a) administration and a larger Salafi (Sunni) insurgency.
  • Arab vs. Persian: Centered around Saudi Arabia and Qatar on one side and Iran on the other, with corollary polarities between Turkish and Israeli interests.
  • Salafi and Jihadist vs. Despotic Regimes – The false sense of security under a ruthless dictator should not be preferred over the uncertain volatility of the powers emerging from the revolutions.
  • Sino-Russian vs. Euro-American interests in the region, often complicated by western neglect or ignorance of culture, religion, and society in the area couple with agendas more concerned with petroleum and other natural resources than with human rights and religious freedom.

Given this, many of the region’s Christians have trepidations about the Arab Spring, fearing that it will bring not a transition to greater democracy, but simply create an extended power vacuum that could be manipulated by militant extremists.

But not all of Prof. Malik’s talk painted such a gloomy picture. There was an enthusiastic and grateful welcome of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which Pope Benedict delivered in Beirut six weeks ago. There is, as always, a desire to be better understood by the west in general, the Latin Church, and by the Holy See. Many see Pope Benedict has grasping many of the complexities and delicacies of Christianity in its birthplace, and see in the exhortation recognition of the historic, current and eschatological dimension of the predicament of indigenous Christians, while outlining their unique responsibilities as Christians in the midst of the world of Islam.

He did suggest a few critiques, or observations for improvement, in the exhortation:

  • The frequent use of Lebanon as a role model, he says, seems to be putting the cart before the horse. The potential is there, certainly, but there is still a long way to go.
  • The high praise of the Middle East Council of Churches ignores the record of nearly exclusive focus on Palestine and missed opportunities in other areas
  • Interreligious dialogue needs to be a dialogue of truth and charitable but honest witness, not of the common platitudes he sees throughout
  • Finally, the pleas for a healthy secularity may resonate with a Eurocentric West, but make no sense in Islam where there is no differentiation between the realms of sacred and secular authority. This kind of language might just push Christians out of the area to seek the kind of healthy secularity to be found in the U.S. and elsewhere.

“How can the Christians navigate between the depressing realities of the Arab upheavals and the hope offered to them in the Apostolic Exhortation? How can they internalize and employ the latter to overcome the anticipated negative fallout from the former?” Some thoughts and recommendations presented by Prof. Malik:

  • The Church and the world press need to continue to put pressure by shining light on even the smallest abuses. Even dictators don’t like bad press.
  • The international community must insist that new states’ constitutions include religious liberty and hold them accountable.
  • The litmus test of the Arab Spring is and will be the treatment of religious minorities. Need to consider a ‘federalism’ option.
  • People of the region must actively promote rights and ’universal liberal values’
  • They need the encouragement and support of the Christian World
  • Inspiration from the Year of Faith and the carefully selected opening mass reading of Mark 8-27-35, with its focus on ecumenism as a witness of unity in the face of interreligious dialogue and as a prerequisite for survival and evangelization.
  • Let Maronites take a lead, from their relative stability, but open more to the Anglo-Saxon world, as they have been to the Francophone
  • Unhindered pilgrimage access to the Holy Places is still not guaranteed for the Christians of the middle east, as it is for those from anywhere else. This ought to change

 

 

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Lectio Coram or bust

Friends, my lectio coram – my comprehensive exams – have been scheduled for this Friday at 16.50 Rome time.

The thesis was submitted two weeks ago and is being evaluated, though as soon as i got the printed version back i even noticed a spelling error on the front page. The first word, no less. Still, after this weekend, i hope to have my License in hand and be on the final stage of the doctorate: all research and writing, all the time.

The thesis title was “The Diaconate in Ecumenical Context” and my major presentation for the lectio coram is on “Ecumenical Development on the theme of Apostolicity” followed by questions covering the whole range of my studies here. Prayers are appreciated!

Then, i hope, i will be back to my normal volume of posts: this is going to be an exciting year!

John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue

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In the midst of last week’s events surrounding the Fifth Annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding, delivered at the Angelicum by Cardinal Kurt Koch, i was asked to stay on another year as the graduate assistant at the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Angelicum. So, another year in Rome, at least!

Coincident with the big event – that being the lecture not my assistantship renewal – the Center rolled out a new website, that will continue to expand its content: http://jp2center.org/

While my academic focus has remained ecumenical, the interreligious piece, especially with the Abrahamic faiths, has grown ever entwined in every aspect of my life. It is hard to believe how much time has passed in Rome already, but there is always more to see and do. Please check out the website, and also the Center’s Facebook page.

Building on Nostra Aetate: 50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue, with Cardinal Koch

ImageThe John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue hosted its fifth annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding, featuring Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the pontifical council for promoting Christian Unity and the commission for religious relations with the Jews. His topic was “Building on Nostra Aetate: 50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue.” (full text)

The lecture was the highlight of a busy week for the Center, with a series of meetings and receptions around the Russell Berrie Fellowship and the relationship of the Angelicum University and the Russell Berrie Foundation, which is made manifest in the John Paul II Center. About 150 people attended, including the president emeritus of Ireland, Mary MacAleese, ambassadors to the Holy See from several countries, the U.S. Special Envoy for combating anti-Semitism, the new rector of the Angelicum Fr. Miroslav Adam, and Cardinal Walter Kasper.

His Eminence addressed the topic in seven sections. Nostra Aetate itself, he summed up with “YES to our Jewish roots, NO to anti-Semitism”, and as the ‘magna charta’ of Jewish-Catholic dialogue. That Nostra Aetate took up this question and set an unambiguous position that “in the Catholic Church, [Jews] have a reliable ally in the struggle against anti-Semitism.” It affirms, as Pope John Paul II said during his 1986 visit to the Roman synagogue, that

“The Jewish religion is not something ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism we therefore have a relationship we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and in a certain way it could be said, our elder brothers.”

With regard to the reception history of Vatican II, he says that “one can without doubt dare to assert that Nostra Aetate is to be reckoned among those Council texts which have in a convincing manner been able to effect a fundamental reorientation of the Catholic Church following the Council”. This statement, incidentally, points to a hermeneutic that clearly holds that the purpose of the Council was a reorientation of the Catholic Church.

He outlined the historical and theological reasons for including the dialogue with Jews in the Council for Christian Unity rather than the one for Interreligious Dialogue:

“The separation of Church and Synagogue can be considered the first schism in the history of the church, or as the Catholic theologian Erich Przywara has called it, the ‘primal rift’, from which he derives later progressive loss of wholeness in the Catholica.”

This was followed by a survey of post-conciliar documents building on Nostra Aetate, the most recent from the Commission being the 1998 We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, and then a similar treatment of global international dialogues and their development, the result of which is that,

“Confrontation has turned into successful collaboration, the previous conflict potential has become positive conflict management, and the coexistence of the past has been replaced by a load-bearing friendship.”

While he acknowledges that the real papal impetus for dialogue began with Paul VI, he points out that this engagement by the leadership of the universal Catholic Church was only really apprehended by the wider public in the form of Pope John Paul II, who “had a refined sense for grand gestures and strong images” as compared to, for example, Pope Benedict XVI, who “relies above all on the power of the word and humble encounter.”

Of Ratzinger, Koch highlighted the theologian Ratzinger’s understanding of the bible as one single book, with the old testament inseparable from the new. He likewise highlights the German Shepherd’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, in which he clearly reiterates Church teaching that  the biblical report of the trial of Jesus cannot serve as the basis for any assertion of collective Jewish guilt: “Jesus’ blood raises no call for retaliation, but calls all to reconciliation. It has become as the letter ot the Hebrews shows, itself the permanent Day of Atonement of God.”

He concludes by engaging open theological questions and prospects. The question of the role of Christ in the salvation of the Jews, given the enduring covenant of God: What is the mission to the Jews, if there is one? How do we reconcile these two truths without offering a parallel path of extra-Christological salvation?

Cardinal Koch sees anti-semitism, anti-Judaism, and Marcionism as still-present challenges which the Catholic Church must and does denounce as a betrayal of Christian faith. An expression of this question is found in the recently revised Good Friday prayers for use in the ‘extraordinary form’ of the Latin liturgy, which itself raises questions about “lex orandi, lex credendi”, when we have seen four versions in forty years. Liturgically, he also critiqued both preachers who omit the old testament readings from their reflections, and presiders who “change the mass” omit the original Hebrew meanings of the prayers.

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Cardinal Koch with Berrie Fellows

Overheard at the Angelicum…

Something i should have started when i arrived was a list of funny things overheard at the Angelicum, and in Rome generally. Here are a few I’ve managed to remember, or pass on from others:

“The Italian concept of diverse ethnic food is that this restaurant Umbrian, the one next to it is Tuscan, and the one across the street serves Roman cuisine.” – visiting professor at the Gregorian

“New Evangelization? How does that work? Is it a 12-step program?”

“Why do we need to study Augustine when we have St. Thomas?” – seminarian in philosophy class

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive your roof… table… whatever…” – At an English-language mass this spring

“I just got out of my ecumenism exam. Why did I have to study this? All the texts say. the. same. thing!” – priest student amply demonstrating why the need for ecumenical reception

“Who is Kant? How do you spell that?” – another seminarian in philosophy

“A.J., your life is like a Jackson Pollock painting.” – (apparently envious) fellow student

“You have to be a little suspect of people who study theology. You wonder why they aren’t smart enough to study something like medicine or law and make money to support a family.” – a highly-placed Catholic theologian

“The state of Catholicism in Italy? It’s basically paganism…” – an Italian cardinal

“You’re coming to Rome? Now, you must have gelato while you are here: You can see the pope, or not see the pope, but gelato is not negotiable.” – theology student giving advice to visitors

“There’s a GIRL in the library!” – shouted by seminarian in shock upon entering the library at his collegio

“I thought ecumenism and dialogue was about getting paid to go to meetings in exotic places and enjoy nice meals” – dogma professor

“The most interesting thing was that I got to witness a consecrated virgin catfight!” – male student at a reception

Exchange in a post office, translated:
“Can I have a stamp?”
“No, you need an envelope.”
“You won’t sell me a stamp if I don’t have an envelope?”
“That’s right.”
“Well, can I have an envelope, then?”
“No, we don’t sell envelopes to people without stamps.”

“The Roman idea of ecumenism is that Jesuits can take classes at the Dominican university and vice versa. It’s a big accomplishment, after 400 years.” – Angelicum professor

‎”We had an Anglican bishop speak to us at the NAC last night. It was outrageous. He even wore a clerical colar. Doesn’t he know that we have the copyright on clergy shirts?” – North American seminarian

“My bishop sent me to Rome for five years, and all I got was an STD” – my proposal for a new line of T-shirts…

Bishop-elect Charles Morereod, OP

The first priest I knew to be made a bishop was my look-alike Daniel Jenky, CSC from Notre Dame (now Bishop Daniel of Peoria). My first professor to become a bishop was Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon. But this is the first time a Facebook friend has been named a bishop.

Fr. Charles Morerod was instructor of a course I took in my first year on the “Philosophical Elements in the Catholic-Protestant Dialogue”, and has been Rector Magnificus  of the Angelicum University for a little over two years. He has doctorates in both philosophy and theology, and serves as the secretary general of the International Theological Commission, as well as teaching at three universities.

News of his appointment leaked via Swiss news radio on 2 November, though the official VIS announcement was made the following day on 3 November.

Though it has since been retracted, it is interesting to note that on the same day, the Society of St. Pius X seemed to indicate its rejection of the doctrinal preamble offered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as a requisite for the restoration of full communion of the schismatic sect with the Catholic Church.

Interesting to note, I say, because Bishop-elect Charles was one of three theologians appointed by the CDF two years ago to engage the SSPX in dialogue in an effort to close the only formal schism that resulted from Vatican II, along with Archbishop Luis Ladaria, Secretary of the CDF and Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, vicar general of Opus Dei. Moreover, his new diocese is the home of the SPPX seminary and the place of its short-lived status as a legitimate Catholic organization (SSPX was a diocesan ‘pius union’, what would now be called an ‘association of the faithful’, from 1970-1975).

But back to the good bishop-to-be. I keep running into him these days at the Angelicum, and he leaves this weekend for his home diocese, where he will be ordained and installed on 11 December. The following seems to portray his humility rather well:

Cari [fratelli e sorelle],

…Io pensavo d’essere nella nostra cara Università fino alla pensione (o alla morte). La lascio con grande tristezza, e timore per quel che trovo davanti a me. Ma non ho pensato di poter dire di no, perché non avevo motivi gravi d’andare contro una richiesta diretta del Santo Padre. “Quando il Papa ha visto i nomi, ha detto che doveva essere Lei. Perché la conosce.”

… Cosa rispondere, lo prendo come ho sempre preso la mia vocazione: umanamente ho paura, ma mi fido della volontà divina che non delude. E vedo bene qualche urgenza pastorale in Svizzera: da questo punto di vista sono felice di poter aiutare un po’.

Sono davvero triste di dover rinunciare al nostro lavoro comune… Cercherò di trovare qualche modo d’aiutare l’Angelicum a distanza. Preghiamo gli uni per gli altri.

fr. Charles

My translation, with some help from Google:

Dear brothers and sisters

… I thought to be in our beloved University until retirement (or death). I leave with great sadness, and fear of what I find before me. But I did not think I could say ‘no’, because I had no serious reasons to go against a direct request of the Holy Father. “When the Pope saw the names, he said it had to be you. Because he knows.”

… With that answer, I take it as I have always taken my vocation: As a human, I am afraid, but I trust God will not disappoint. And I can see some pastoral urgency in Switzerland: From this point of view I am happy to help a little. ‘

I am really sad to have to give up our joint work … I will try to find some way of helping the Angelicum from a distance. Let us pray for one another.

Fr. Charles has been a guest at the Lay Centre each year, and one of the main supporters of the the new John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Angelicum in the past year, and of the Russell Berrie Fellowship. He will certainly be missed!

The Angelicum community bids Bishop-elect Charles a fond farewell on Friday, 11 November, with a reception at 12:15.

 

The official bio:

The Rev.do P. Charles Morerod, OP, was born in Riaz (diocese of Lausanne, Genève et Fribourg) October 28, 1961. He studied philosophy and theology at the Faculty of Theology, University of Fribourg, concluding with a degree in Theology. In 1983 he entered the novitiate of the Order of Friars Preachers Swiss province and has made his vows in 1987.

He was ordained April 30, 1988 in Geneva.

From 1987 to 1989 he served in pastoral ministry, first as a deacon and then as viassociate pastor of the parish of St. Paul in Geneva. From 1989 to 1992 he was Assistant  at the Faculty of Theology, University of Fribourg from 1991 to 1994 and chaplain of the University of Fribourg. In 1993 he received his doctorate in theology and a licentiate in philosophy in 1996.

From 1994 to 1999 he was adjunct professor of Fundamental Theology at the University of Fribourg and since 1996 professor at the Pontifical University of St.Thomas Aquinas. Since 1997 he is editor of the edition in French of Nova et Vetera Magazine.

In 1999 he became full-time professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. From 1999 to 2002 he also taught at the Faculty of Theology of Lugano. He was Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Theology from 2003 to 2009 and Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. In 2004 he obtained his doctorate in philosophy at the Catholic Institute of Toulouse. Since 2008 he is also Director of the Roman Catholic Studies Program at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.).

In April 2009 he was appointed Secretary General of the International Theological Commission and Consultant of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in September 2009, also Rector of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.

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.

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