Posts Tagged ‘Pontifical Oriental Institute’

Jesuit Middle East Expert Believes Arab Spring is ‘no more’

Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, speaking at Birmingham Oratory for Aids to the Church in Need's (ACN) Light of the World event in June 2010. Credit: ACN

One of the Catholic Church’s leading experts on the Middle East says the Arab Spring is “no more.”

“It was in the beginning a ‘springtime’ because really it was a free movement, (an) independent, unorganized movement for freedom,” Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir told EWTN News.

But the movement slowly became “organized by other groups, especially by Islamic groups, in Egypt, also in Libya, in Bahrain, so that now the situation is no more a spring,” he said.

Fr. Samir is an Egyptian Jesuit who teaches at Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute, as well as in Beirut and Paris. Last year he cautiously welcomed the rise of the “Arab Spring,” a series of popular uprisings that dislodged several Middle Eastern dictators.

While some observers were hopeful that more democratic forms of government would take root in the wake of the protests, many countries instead saw Islamist movements rise to political prominence.

Fr. Samir said this has been particularly true in his homeland of Egypt, where the 30-year military dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year, and in other states such as Tunisia and Libya.

Fr. Samir said he still prays for “an open society for all people” in the Arab world but believes there are two road blocks – a lack of experience with democracy and a lack of education particularly for Arab women.

“We are aspiring to democracy but a problem is, if I take the case of Egypt for instance, which is not an exception, since 1952 and the Abdel Nasser revolution we don’t have a democracy,” he explained. Instead Egypt experienced having militant leaders – Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak – “so we don’t know what a democracy is and how to make it.”

He believes that democracy could develop in the region but that it may take another generation to achieve it.

The Egyptian Jesuit also thinks that education, especially for women, is a key factor in achieving a stable democratic society. He explained that it is Arab women who “build the family, not the fathers” and that females are also “those who are more for peace and not for war” which, he believes, gives them a greater affinity with minorities such as Christians.

Read more at EWTN News.

Jesuits Work to Preserve Precious Library Collection

Jesuit Father Robert Taft holds a rare book in the library of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Jesuit Father Robert Taft holds a rare book in the library of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Jesuit’s Pontifical Oriental Institute has the best general collection in the world on Eastern Christianity, including an extremely rare 1581 edition of the Ostrog Bible – the first complete Bible printed in Slavic. “For the Slavic churches, this is the Gutenberg” Bible, said U.S. Jesuit Father Robert Taft, former prefect of the library and former vice rector of the institute.

However, the Bible and other items in the library’s oldest and most valuable collections are in a serious state of degradation. Rome’s temperatures swings and ordinary wear and tear have taken their toll on volumes that are hundreds of years old.

“Everybody knows that that the only way to preserve material like this is to have a standard uniform temperature with humidity control and climate control throughout the entire year,” Fr. Taft said.

The institute and library are funded by the Vatican, but the portion they receive is only enough to increase their holdings and keep the place running.

The institute’s rector, U.S. Jesuit Father James McCann, said he is looking for outside funding for its preservation efforts. Georgetown University hopes to provide a grant to the library that would pay for a digitizing machine plus a year’s stipend for one person to do the scanning, Fr. McCann added.

While digitizing the collections will save on further wear and tear, funding must still be found for repairing the degraded volumes. McCann said he also wants to look for potential donors outside the church, such as “people who love books or specialists who recognize the value of these materials.”

A climate-controlled system for the library and its collections could cost a quarter of a million dollars, said McCann. Not only would it protect the books from heat and humidity, he said, the library would be able to stay open year round instead of having to close in late summer because of the stifling temperature.

Because the institute attracts religious and lay students and experts from many Christian traditions, it plays a key role in the future of ecumenism, McCann said.

The oriental institute “is not an archival library or a museum library. Our things aren’t here to be oohed and aahed over; they’re here to be put into somebody’s hands and used,” said Taft.

For the full story, visit Catholic News Service.

Jesuits Reflects on His New Position at Pontifical Oriental Institute

This summer, Jesuit Father James McCann was assigned by Pope Benedict XVI to head to Rome to oversee the Pontifical Oriental Institute as its rector. Founded in 1917, the institute was started by Pope Benedict XV for the study of Eastern Christianity and provides theological and spiritual education to about 400 priests, religious, seminarians and lay people. It also has the world’s only academic program for the Code of Canons for Eastern Churches.

With a background in Russian and Eastern European Studies and a doctorate in Politics of Russia and Eastern Europe as well as speaking Russian, Polish and German along with English, Fr. McCann is well suited to take over the reigns of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Since 2003, McCann served as director of the Office to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops before heading to Rome this month to begin his new assignment.

In the video piece below with National Jesuit News, McCann discusses the “very specialized kind of work” that the Pontifical Oriental Institute does that “is meant for the universal church” and one that he hopes to make known to a wider audience.

U.S. Jesuit Priest to take Reins of Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome


For Jesuit Father James McCann, it all started with taking a course in the Russian language while in high school.

“They were offering different languages” to students, said Father McCann, 61, a Chicago native. “I probably put down Russian as my third choice. But what I think they did was that they took everyone who put Russian down as any choice at all and put them into the class.”

As providence would have it, McCann liked learning Russian. That led to an interest in almost anything having to do with the East.

That interest led to his current stop, a seven-year stint as head of the U.S. bishops’ Office to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

It will play an important role in his next assignment, as rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

Read more about McCann’s new appointment  here.