Archive for the ‘Interreligious Dialogue’ Category
By Thomas M. Simisky
Thomas M. Simisky, a Jesuit scholastic in his third year of theology studies at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, wrote the following reflection about his connection to Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek and his own service in Russia.
“Well, I’m not really a monk. I’m a member of the Society of Jesus. This is kind of a pilgrimage, encountering God as St. Ignatius might.” Thus began many conversations in Siberia this past summer when people struggled to figure me out.
Russia is overwhelmingly Orthodox, which means people are familiar with married priests and celibate monks living in monasteries. Religious life in our Western tradition is hard to grasp. The fact that I lived vowed life in community pointed towards monastic life. However, I spent my days working with Russia’s poorest populations and my weekends socializing with friends. Plus, I smiled too much.
So the question kept arising: What was I doing in Russia and why did I even want to be there? After Jesus and Ignatius of Loyola, Walter Ciszek gets the credit.
Reading His Story
During the first year of my novitiate in Syracuse, our Novice Master asked us to choose an inspiring Jesuit saint. I came across Walter Ciszek, SJ, and immediately felt a connection. Fr. Ciszek described himself as a tough, stubborn Pole and an unlikely candidate for priesthood. As a former Marine artillery officer, I still had many of my own rough edges. Though not a canonized saint, he fulfilled my criteria of holiness. He clearly possessed the missionary zeal that I hoped to emulate in my Jesuit life.
I appreciated his direct style, especially the quotation: “Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next. That is the fact of the matter; you believe it or you don’t — and that is the end of it.” These words have inspired me at various times when I find myself getting down about something. I hear Ciszek’s advice as: “Tom, quit complaining. Get grateful. Put the focus back on Christ.”
After the novitiate, I spent three years in Bolivia and Chile studying philosophy. There I met a couple of Chilean Jesuits who had been missioned to Russia. I was fascinated by their stories. Later, I taught theology at Cheverus High School in Maine. Just for fun, I signed up for Russian classes through Portland’s adult education program. (Yes, Maine winters are long and one needs hobbies.)
During my second year of teaching, I discussed some chapters of “He Leadeth Me” with my senior theology classes. His story also intrigued many of my students. The consensus seemed to be, if he can find God in Soviet gulags, we should be able to find God in our lives.
Meeting the People He Loved
I am currently in my third year of theology studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and progressing toward priestly ordination. When I arrived, I asked to continue my Russian studies with a private tutor and to do apostolic work there during the summers.
My first summer was spent in Moscow in 2011. There I volunteered in an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa sisters) for children with severe disabilities. I also helped organize books in the St. Thomas Institute library, a Jesuit school that grants bachelor’s degrees in religious studies.
On Sundays, I would attend different masses and be amazed by the enthusiasm of the Catholic community. There are only three Catholic churches in Moscow, each holding masses in various languages (Russian, Polish, French, German, Lithuanian, Spanish and English). Every mass was standing room only and very international, the beauty of our Catholic faith.
This past summer was spent in Novosibirsk. There, the Society of Jesus runs a retreat house, as well as a pre-seminary for candidates who will move on to the diocesan seminary in St. Petersburg or the Jesuit novitiate in Poland. My task was to work with street alcoholics living at the Missionaries of Charity home. I taught a daily spirituality class in Russian to 15-20 adults whom the sisters had rescued from the streets. The rest of my day would be spent in pastoral conversations and simple housecleaning.
Another privileged encounter with Christ was the “Maly Kovcheg” (Little Ark) summer camp for adults with disabilities. This is a L’Arche-inspired community of Catholic and Orthodox volunteers who have been working together for the past 11 years. While physically challenging in many ways — transporting patients in a rural setting and the labor involved in setting up the camp — it was a place of overwhelming joy and gratitude.
What Kind of Jesuit?
So, I’m not a monk. I am a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was (General Congregation 32). St. Ignatius always referred to himself as the pilgrim and dreamed of going to the Holy Land to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.
Walter Ciszek found God in Russia, and I too have found it to be a holy land because of its people. Russians face many challenges today, much of which comes from its history and the devastating effects of alcoholism on so many families. But I am grateful to Fr. Ciszek’s spiritual guidance, pointing me East so that I too might share in the love he had for the Russian people.
Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás, superior general of the Society of Jesus, recently spoke about the new evangelization, or missionary outreach, to the 25th Synod of Bishops. The synod brought together over 250 top church leaders for a three-week summit at the Vatican.
Father General Nicolás told the synod that the Ignatian spirituality he was formed in encourages finding God in all things.
“I am afraid that we missionaries have not done it with sufficient depth,” he said. Father General Nicolas also spoke about the need to enrich the universal church with the signs and seeds of God’s presence in other cultures and religions.
Father General Nicolás, who spent most of his priesthood in Japan and in other parts of Asia, said too many church members have “looked for Western signs of faith and sanctity and have not discovered how God has been at work in other peoples. This impoverishes all. We miss important clues, insights and discoveries,” he said.
“The fullness of Christ needs the contribution of all peoples and all cultures,” Father General Nicolás said. He said some of the keys to effective evangelization include:
- The simplicity of the message.
- Generosity in acknowledging the work of God in the life and history of people.
- Being aware of one’s own life as a factor of credibility.
- Forgiveness and reconciliation are the most helpful shortcuts to the heart of the Gospel.
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and Jesuit Father John W. O’Malley, a historian, theologian and professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., gave his thoughts on the legacy of Vatican II in both an interview with the Vatican Insider and an op-ed piece in The New York Times.
Fr. O’Malley says that one of the council’s legacies is that it gave the church “a new role as reconciler in a world torn apart by hatred and threats of violence.”
Reconciliation was one of the great themes running through the council, according to Fr. O’Malley. “The document of the liturgy, for instance, promoted a reconciliation of the church with non-Western cultures by inviting symbols and rituals from those cultures into the liturgy itself. The church thus distanced itself from the Western ‘cultural imperialism’ that affected even Catholic missionaries,” he says.
“Related to that reconciliation but perhaps even more pertinent for today’s world, was the reconciliation with Jews and Muslims, as expressed in the document Nostra Aetate. This meant putting behind us a tradition of belittling and denigrating those faiths, a tradition that had contributed to the horror of the Holocaust,” says Fr. O’Malley. “Pope John Paul II set a marvelous example by his many meetings with Jewish groups, as it is well known. Less well known, but in today’s tense international situation even more important, were his many meetings with Muslims.”
Fr. O’Malley says that Vatican II has already passed from experience and memory to history. Future generations, he says, “will experience what the council did not as a change but as ‘the way things are’ and maybe assume that is the way things have always been.”
In his op-ed piece, Fr. O’Malley concludes: “The post-Vatican II church was not a different church. But if you take the long view, it seems to me incontestable that the turn was big, even if failures in implementation have made it less big in certain areas than the council intended.”
In September, Jesuits from around the World came together to Rome to meet with Father General Adolfo Nicolás about the ever evolving issue of interreligious dialogue and ecumenical outreach. Jesuit Father Thomas Rausch, the T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology at Loyola Marymount University attended this meeting, and offered his reflections to National Jesuit News on the issues facing today’s Society and the future of interreligious dialogue.
In 1995, the Jesuits came together in their General Congregation to broaden the understanding of the Society’s mission, to include the proclamation of the Gospel and the evangelization of culture. Recognizing that that Jesuits today carry out their mission in a world of ecclesial and religious pluralism, this past September, Jesuits from around the globe came together in Rome, to discuss the future and expansion of this mission.
Mindful of this, Father General Adolfo Nicolás reorganized the Jesuit Curia’s one-man secretariat for ecumenical and interreligious affairs, appointing eight Jesuits from around the world who would meet with him every September for three years to advise him on shaping Jesuit mission in these areas. The most recent meeting included discussions that were wide-ranging, covering topics such as; new challenges to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, how those from different religions might find ways to pray together or in each other’s company, how to encourage dialogue with indigenous and traditional religions, and how to prepare Jesuits for engagement with all these issues.
It is more important than ever for students exploring a religion, especially Islam, to examine its sociopolitical, historical and theological roots, according to Jesuit Father Daniel Madigan, an associate professor of theology at Georgetown University.
Fr. Madigan, a native of Australia with a doctorate in Islamic religion from Columbia University, said theological study of Islam is also important in helping Christians and non-Christians better understand their own faith.
“When we talk about theology among ourselves we adopt a kind of a language and we’re so used to doing it, we don’t challenge each other on it,” Madigan said. “We don’t realize how weird it sounds to people who grew up in a different faith.”
Establishing an interreligious dialogue between Christianity and Islam, and among all world religions, is an important step towards greater accountability and acceptance, according to Madigan.
Read more about Madigan at the Georgetown University website.