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Robert DeNiro and Monica Bellucci filming on campus

Monica Bellucci and Robert DeNiro in Rome

So, I ran into Robert DeNiro today. Not literally, mind you, what with the security and stage hands and boom operators and thirty other people that go into shooting a short scene, it would have taken a deliberate effort and probably not have been received well to do so literally. Nevertheless, he and Monica Bellucci were at the Angelicum today shooting for their new movie, Manuale d’amore 3.

Unlike my late spring encounter with the hordes of Italian teens outside Castel Sant’Angelo for the stars of the latest Twighlight movie, I might have actually made an effort to get DeNiro’s signature, if it were not so apparent that he was working and that I was supposed to be getting to class. It would have been, as they say, simply brutto. Ah well. Next time!

Building Bridges of Hope: Success Stories and Strategies for Interfaith Action

Past the Ambassador and Dr. Diaz, in the white...

On October 12, 2010, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Pontifical Gregorian University sponsored a conference entitled “Building Bridges of Hope: Success Stories and Strategies for Interfaith Action.” The purpose of the conference was to discuss how people of different faiths could work together to address global problems. Nine panelists from different faiths spoke on the topics of environmental protection, equitable development, and conflict resolution, sharing their religion’s perspective on their panel theme plus concrete examples of interreligious cooperation in that field. The White House sent a keynote speaker, Dr. Joshua DuBois, to the event to emphasize the U.S. Government’s senior-level support for the initiative.

[Taken from the conferences wikisite, which includes full transcripts of presentations: http://bridgebuilders.wikispaces.com/]

Foclare Representative; Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour; Dr. Hillel Levine

The Environment, Ethical Development, and Conflict Prevention were the three panel themes of the conference, each addressed by three panellists from each of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Not all were academics. Business and NGO leaders, clergy and politicians were among the presenters, providing for an even greater variety of approaches to the questions of interfaith dialogue and action.

Take a few minutes to peruse the conference on the link above!

Dr. Joshua DuBois, Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Russell Berrie Foundation Board of Trustees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell Berrie Foundation Trustees

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

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

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

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

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

Commitment of the Catholic Church to Dialogue

Monday brought us to the Angelicum with a welcome from Irish Dominican Michael Carragher, Vice-Rector and Canon Law Professor, and a brief tour from the new dean of the Theology faculty, Maltese Dominican Joseph Aguis. I learned more about the University in these 20 minutes than my time spent in its classrooms the last year. The university itself is the third oldest in rome, after Sapienza and the Gregorian, but its original location was next to the Pantheon in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The building that currently houses the university was originally a convent, repurchased from the government sometime after both sites had been taken in 1870. In what had been the chapter room, and serves now as the Sala de Senato, the full-body relic of an unnamed saint rests in the armor of an imperial roman soldier under the altar, unbeknownst to even some of the faculty who had joined us on our tour.

Fr. James Puglisi, SA, who serves as director of the ecumenical section and the Centro Pro Unione lead our first academic discussion on the “Commitment of the Catholic Church to Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue”. Like many of the presentations throughout the week, the content was review, but would certainly be helpful for those arriving without previous background in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. We lunched at the Gregorian university bar, which is substantially larger than its Angelicum counterpart.

Thomas Casey, SJ pictured with NYU Professor Lawrence Schiffman

Following lunch, we ran into former Lay Centre resident Dimitrios Keramidas in his new role as secretary of the Missiology faculty at the Gregorian. He gave us an impromptu tour of his office and that of the Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion and Culture, as well as the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies. We were joined there by Irish Jesuit Father Thomas Casey, director of the Bea centre, who introduced us to the research and work of the center, which includes 6000 volumes on Judaism in the Gregorian university library. This was followed by a 90-moinute introduction to the library there, which is the largest in Rome. At this point I calculated that if all the pontifical universities in Rome combined their libraries into a single collection, or at least a single system to which all pontifical students had access, it would be almost as large as the Hesburgh Memorial Library at Notre Dame.

Gerard O'Connell, Rome Correspondent for UCANews

We returned to the Lay Centre for celebration of the Eucharist with the Theologian of the Papal Household, Polish Dominican Wojciech Giertych. This was followed by a dual-presentation and discussion over dinner with Fr. Giertych and Gerard O’Connell, Rome correspondent for the Union of Catholic Asia News service and author of God’s Invisible Hand, a biography of Cardinal Francis Arinze. The topic of their presentations was, “Issues that Matter to the Holy See: Seeing Interreligious Dialogue in its Broader Context”.

Wojciech Giertych, OP

The views were decidedly different, but not necessarily in opposition. Clearly a journalist and a theologian have different constituencies, frames of reference, and sensitivities when observing the Holy See; both men have had several years of doing so. Fr. Giertych raised a few hackles among some fellows with comments that grace comes through Christ and not through Buddha or Muhammad, but others countered that this is simply classical Christocentricism, inclusivist though it may be and in contrast to a more pluralistic view that is popularly construed as the most popular approach. (Whether it is or not is another discussion). At the least, it is helpful to be reminded that even in the administration of a papacy that is clearly pro-dialogue, there exist different methodologies and approaches to dialogue.

One of the burning questions of the evening revolved around whether Jews and Muslisms, at least, worship the same God as Christians. The Catholic Church has authoritatively taught that they do, and this has been cited from Gregory VII in the eleventh century to Nostra Aetate in the twentieth. Still, the thesis is challenged even within the church, and this fact lead to some pretty interesting conversation the rest of the evening. That, and another debate which started with one of the European fellows noting, “There is nothing new in Nostra Aetate. It is fifty years old, and it shows. We should be much further along than this!”

Back home in Rome

What a week! I returned to Rome on Sunday, 26 September with time enough for lunch and a nap before beginning an intensive orientation week for the Russell Berrie Fellowship. Though I started the program last year, the orientation and several other aspects are new this year, and we welcome the third cohort, as the first has finished their course of study (I am in the second).

The new Fellows include priests from Poland, Ruanda, Nigeria and India and lay scholars from Chile, Ukraine, Gambia, India and the U.S. (including one seminarian, one religious sister, and one Muslim). In addition to the Latin Church (“Roman Catholic”), three of the Catholics are Eastern: the Ukrainian Greek, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Malankara Catholic Churches are represented. More had studied in Rome previously than with my class, and I was reminded how little my Italian has advanced in the last year.

The Lay Centre served as the ‘base camp’ for our orientation, and there is something about sharing my home in Rome with friends and fellow Fellows that gives a special joy. This truly is a place of hospitality and dialogue, of retreat and study, and it is only a pity that more of the Fellows are not also residents the rest of the year! Insha’Allah

It was an impressive schedule.  Our first evening’s introductory remarks were from Dr. Donna Orsuto (Lay Centre Director, Pontifical University Gregoriana) and Dr. Adam Afterman (Shalom Hartman Institute, Tel Aviv University).

Owing to the schedule, I am back-filling some of my notes, but dating them as though they were real time. I hope it makes sense!

Nice to be back on the terrace

Mary in Islam

Dr. Mona Siddiqui presaged tomorrow’s Annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Dialogue with a visit to the seminar Fr. Fred Bliss has been conducting on Mary in Ecumenical Dialogue (which incidentally, uses the Seattle Statement as its primary text). This is my summary of her presentation, with a little reflection.

One of the few things most (western) Christians would know about Islam is that Jesus is respected as a prophet and messenger of God – though not as God himself. Less well known is that Mary is also mentioned from the Qur’an, and considered by some also as a prophet (though not a Messenger). She is, in fact, referenced more frequently in the pages of the Qur’an than in the New Testament. Instead of Mary, Mother of God, the reference is almost always to ‘Isâ, son of Miryam. Mary’s elevation to a place of respect is owing to her being mother of one of the great prophets. There are 114 suras (chapters) in the Muslim holy book, eight of which are devoted to, or named for, a person. One of these is Mary of Nazareth, to whom the 19th sura is dedicated.

Islam does not hold a view of original sin and the need for salvation from sin that dominates Augustinian-influenced Christianity. Adam’s first act of sin was also his first act of the will, and was apparently a part of the divine plan from the beginning that he would populate the Earth (which is part of the result of his choice). We are not born into a state of sin so much as we are inclined to commit particular sins. Nevertheless there is a sort of myth that sometime before birth, we are each of us ‘pricked’ by the devil, which has a similar effect. Mary and Jesus were spared this pricking for much the same reason that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was developed, to recognize Mary’s holiness and purity as a worthy mother of a great prophet and Messenger.

ARCIC II Seattle Statement: Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ

The virgin birth of Jesus is affirmed, though the Qur’an and its commentators never focus as much on the physicality of all this, as in some of the extreme Christian views. For Islam, Mary’s purity was ethical and spiritual rather than physical. And nothing about a perpetual virginity.

She is a popular person of devotion, especially for Muslim women. Her role is perhaps not as prominent as Fatima, the daughter of the prophet, who is especially revered among Shi’ah Muslims as the mother of successors to the Prophet Mohammad.

Angelicum Quote of the Day

 

Thomas F. O'Meara, OP

One of my favorite professors from Notre Dame, an owlish Dominican ecclesiolgist named Tom O’Meara, published an autobiography a few years ago. I had noticed a copy for sale at the Angelicum bookstore the last couple weeks, but have not been inclined to buy too many extra books while here in Rome. Today, however, I discovered an entire table full of clearance priced texts as they get ready to wind down the academic year, including this paperback at about 85% off the previous price.

Randomly flipping through the book as I logged it into my library inventory, I came across this page describing his first days in Europe in the late summer of 1963:

“I spent my first days in Europe at the Angelicum, the Dominican graduate theological school and seminary. It was named after Thomas Aquinas but called the Angelicum because Aquinas’s theological acumen had resembled that of an angel. With a few eccentric scholars, some inedible meals, primitive toilets, officious porters and sacristans, the “Ange” lived up to what I had heard of it from my teachers who had studied there. A year or two before it had been an almost obligatory school to which Dominicans came from all over the world to gain expeditiously a doctorate. The study of dogmatic theology rarely ranged far from collecting passages from Aquinas on some major or minor topic and ignored other theologians from Origen to Maurice Blondel. Historical contexts and contemporary problems were neglected, for this was a citadel of a strict neo-Thomism where the salvation of Jesuit Suarezians was in only a little less doubt than that of Protestant Hussites. On the eve of the Council, one of the Dominican professors at a meeting of advisors to the Vatican had bemoaned the variety and looseness of theological opinions tolerated by the church, views held even in Rome, views such as those of the Redemptorists in moral theology or the Jesuits in the psychology of grace. He devoutly hoped that the Council would proclaim lists of clear positions on canon law and doctrine so that those vagaries opposed to the Dominican school of Thomism would end. Most of my teachers in the Midwest had received their doctorates from the Angelicum in philosophy, theology, and canon law. What soon amazed me was that American Dominicans had lived in Rome without becoming interested in history or art. Their graduate studies had been repetitive, boring, more memorized scholasticism, and the two years were physically and psychologically difficult, the life of prisoners whose goal was survival. Sadly, poverty, isolation, and rigidity of daily schedule – even in a cloister arranged around a fountain and palm trees and perched above the Roman forum- had for most blocked out the history and beauty around them.”

Thomas F. O’Meara, OP, A Theologian’s Journey, 70.

There’s a new doc’ in town

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

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

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

Well, a gift, anyway. Moving on…

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

Congrats again to Matthew!  

Dr. Matthew John Paul Tan

Bishop Don Bolen

He got the call on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2009. “The Holy Father would like you to be bishop of Saskatoon.”

It is significant then, that his ordination as bishop take place today, on the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 2010.

Bishop Don Bolen at his ordination

In between these two events, I had the privilege of being the bishop-elect’s student in Rome for his half of a course on Methodism and its dialogue with the Catholic Church. I even wrote up a short blog article about the class and my first encounter with Msgr. Bolen, here.

I had offered some first impressions at the end of that blog. Over lunch on his next-to-last day in Rome, Father Don mentioned that someone had directed him to my blog about him, and he suggested that perhaps I should revisit my impressions now that we had gone through an entire class together. Fair enough.

The people of Saskatoon are blessed among Canadians. That is all there is to it.

Bishop Don Bolen of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Most bishops have no training or formation to become bishop, not really. They see how their bishop acts, think what they would do, and that’s about it. Bishop Bolen spent years on the Vatican desk covering the dialogues with the Anglicans and the Methodists, where episcopacy and authority, indeed ecclesiology in general, are the major issues of discussion. What better formation than to be a theologian-pastor studying the highest level conversations about what it means to be a bishop, ecumenically, especially when Ratzinger is Pope and Kasper is President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity? Granted, it is one thing to engage in discussion about the episcopacy, and another to live it out, but what an opportunity!

So that’s the leadership aspect. What about teaching? At the end of our course, (team taught by Bishop Don and the Rev. Dr. Trevor Hoggard, the Methodist Representative to the Holy See) several of us had concluded this was one of the most valuable courses offered, in terms of both method and content. It was pretty straightforward: Get a solid introduction to the Methodist church from a Methodist pastor/theologian, get a thorough overview of the dialogue from the Catholic perspective, and culminate in a mock-dialogue with actual participants from the international dialogues, complete with Anglican observer.

The celebration of his ordination as bishop in Saskatoon was attended by several ecumenical leaders locally, and by a delegation from Rome that included Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the PCPCU,  Fr. James Puglisi, SA, Father-General of the Friars of the Atonement and Director of the Centro Pro Unione, Very Rev. David Richardson, ChStJ, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, and others.  I have included a link to the pictures that the diocese has put up about the event, including a slide show.

His motto is “Mercy within Mercy within Mercy” and his coat of arms and biographical information are here. Weslyan hymns specifically chosen by the bishop were a central part of the ordination liturgy, as was an ecumenical prayer service that looks to have been very well attended.

Being bishop is no easy task and my prayers are with this newest of Canada’s episcopate. Coming from a diocese that has not seen a ‘normal’ transition of episcopal leadership since before I was born, I can especially appreciate what it means for a local church to find a shepherd that makes such a good fit, and I hope the coming years are fruitful and filled with the Spirit.

Angelicum Leads the Way in Rome for Eucharistic Adoration

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

You can watch the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8Wh3YqLOoU

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