Saturday 3 May 2014

Ratisbonne Bicentenary Symposium

The STS Jerusalem organized a 'Cultural Day' featuring a symposium in commemoration of the Bicentenary of the birth of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne (1814-2014), founder of the Ratisbonne Monastery, among other things. The superiors general of the Sisters and Fathers of Sion were present - Sr Oonah O'Shean and Fr Donizete Ribeiro - together with historians Emmanuelle Main and Olivier Rota, Bro Elio Passeto and Sr Maureen Cusick.

It had never struck me that Sion, the Holy City, is a symbol of Mary and a symbol of the Church. So the name is quite profound - Religious of Notre Dame de Sion.

Passeto said that Marie-Alphonse came to the Holy Land not only to look after stone buildings (he put put three beautiful ones - Ecce Homo, Ain Karem and St Pierre de Ratisbonne) but also and especially teh living stones - he worked for children, regardless of religion, he worked for the Children of God, in a time much before ecumenism became popular.

He was also deeply involved in the revival of the Latin Patriarchate, at a time of great poverty, when there was neither clergy nor seminary, neither schools nor residences nor churches. He worked with all his energy for the local church, and even helped other religious to enter - Dominicans, Jesuits, etc.

I liked Elio's thought about the particular and the universal: the passage from the one to the other does not necessitate leaving behind or abandoning or overcoming the particular. God acts from particular to universal without cancelling the particular - the land, the people, the city. Marie-Alphonse is a model of the particular vocation that is open to and welcomes the universal.

From Emmanuelle Main I learned that Alphonse was initially indifferent to all religion, including his own. It was after his brother Theodor's conversion that he began to feel that Catholicism was fanatical. The plight of the Jews of Europe moved Alphonse. He felt that the chief cause of their misery was thier stubborn attachment to their religion, but he also said, strangely, that the Jews were a people destitute of religion. When he converted, he said: I do not renounce Moses, or Isaiah, or David or Solomon; I do renounce Judas.

Olivier Rota in his talk came around to the central issue in the charism of the Religious of Sion: the shift from conversion to dialogue. Sr Clare said she had been brought up to think of this as a 180 degre turn, but was happy to see Rota stressing the continuity. Sr Maureen remembered the ambivalence of the Sisters when she was growing up, on the topic of conversion. I realized that, despite the differences, there is a deep connection between dialogue here and dialogue in India. The conversion-dialogue question is at the very core. Upon being asked, the panelists expounded on their current understanding of the question. Rota, I thought, stayed with the standard reply: we realize now that conversion is first of all converting to one's own religion, becoming a better Jew or a better Christian. Passeto said clearly that conversion is no longer a question, and by that he probably meant 'proselytism' in the sense of an aggressive and often disrespectful stance. He quoted Cardinal Kurt Koch at the Angelicum in 2012: the Jews and the Christians are one people of God in their differences. Rota pointed out that Jesus asked people for a more absolute faith in God, more trust in God. He demanded more than what the Jews and Jewish masters of his time demanded. And then, the confrontation and contact with alterity is a great challenge to grow. If you are in touch only with yourselves and with your own kind, you do not grow as much as when you are in constant touch with the Other. The more diverse your encounters, the richer is the process of mutual self-mediation.

Main spoke of the Trinity as the true basis for encounter and dialogue. So not a dia-logos, a talking between two, but a tria-logos, with God as the third. Echoes of Panikkar: the testis, the third, the Spirit that breaks through, that speaks, that bears witness.

Rota also insisted on identity: you do not skip or pass over the difficult bits, what you are deeply convinced of. Panikkar would say: do not make an epoche; that would be unauthentic, for it would be you speaking at your penultimate level, while the other is speaking at her ultimate level.

I was wondering in all this: there is an emotional component and an intellectual component in all dialogue, and certainly in dialogue with the Jews: which one is predominant just now? I did not get around to asking the question.

Sr Maureen said that after 50 years of Nostra Aetate, we had probably still before us the challenge of absorbing that teaching, and helping our students absorb it and appropriate it.

Sr Oonah asked how the call to the new evangelization related to dialogue. Proselytizing, she said, is anathema, and pointed out that Theodor himself never encouraged this; he only asked the sisters to pray. Each child was to be respected, in her culture, in her religious tradition.

We might need, in fact, an intrareligious dialogue, a dialogue within the church: what, for example, for we understand by dialogue? We might need a common understanding of dialogue.

Rota made a remark that I found extremely interesting: all the councils before Vatican II opposed something, clarified something by opposition and rejection; the Vatican II did not. It sought to define the identity of the church not in opposition but in relation. And this is something utterly new, and no wonder, not always clear, and very challenging.

Wonderful exchange, I thought. Not always of 'immediate interest' to our students, perhaps; but of extreme significance anyway, to my mind.

The issue of the outer word does need to be confronted properly. And here is matter to chew upon. At some point, with Judaism and with Islam, we have to face dialectical opposites. But there is a way. It needs to be expatiated with greater care and concern.

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