Conferences and Seminars
National Catholic Ecumenical and Interfaith Meeting Dialogues with Lutherans and Jews

by David Schütz, Executive Officer of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission
This past weekend, about 30 members of the various Ecumenical and Interfaith Commissions from Catholic Dioceses around Australia gather together under the auspices of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Council for Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations for an inservice training conference at the Catholic Leadership Centre in Melbourne. The event was hosted by our local EIC and the guest speaker was Rev. Prof. Philipp Renczes SJ from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Fr Philipp is the director of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at the Greg, which means that he was perfectly qualified to give the public lecture on Sunday afternoon on the topic of the latest document from the Vatican on Jewish-Catholic relations “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable” (December 2016). We were very privileged to have our local friend and scholar Dr Fred Morgan, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Israel, give the response, which raised some hard questions about our relationship. Both papers, which were really ‘cutting edge’ in terms of future directions for Catholic-Jewish relations, will be made available in due course along with the video and the audio recordings. About 100 people attended the lecture, including a number of our friends from the Jewish community. We were especially honoured to have the president of the Jewish Community Council, Ms Jennifer Huppert, present. (Contact David Schütz at if you wish to be put on a list to receive this material when it is ready for dissemination.)
A special part of the Conference was given over to meeting local Lutherans to hear about what next year’s 500th Anniversary of the start of the Lutheran reformation means to them, and why this is something that Catholics should engage with. Mrs Marlene Pietsch told us about her upbringing in the Lutheran faith and culture. Pastor Dale Gosden, a member of the Australian Catholic-Lutheran dialogue group, told us about his personal journey of dialogue in his marriage to a faithful Catholic. Pastor Wayne Muschamp from the Nunawading parish led us through some of things he treasures about the Lutheran heritage. Then Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra-Goulburn and Pastor Andrew Brook (retiring Assistant Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Victoria) led us in prayer together using a joint liturgy prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation.
Fr Philipp, visiting from Rome, said that the opportunity to attend this conference was like “a dream”. He certainly will be taking back to Rome as much as he brought here to us in terms of material to think about, as these encounters with Lutherans and Jews brought a new antipodean perspective to his European experience. Fr Philipp is himself a convert from Lutheranism. Born in Stuttgart to a Lutheran family with Silesian roots (Renczes is in fact a Hungarian name), he told us that as a young child his father moved the family to Bavaria because Greek and Latin were still on the school curriculum there.
He spoke more about this in his talk to the Conference on Saturday morning, when he raised the issue of “the conflicting desires” in the hearts of those involved in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue:
“If we ask ourselves honestly then we might not find it so easy to answer the question how far we would go actually to really really want unity. We live in a period of time where diversity is celebrated. And I can tell you, for instance, I myself, if I were faced with this option to say to this [or that] group today maybe now in two years you should happily dissolve into Catholicism, I would maybe start choking! I wouldn’t want that! So we live inside much more of conflicting desires when it comes to interreligious dialogue and ecumenical dialogue than we would easily admit to.
“I am from Lutheran background, a convert, a very atypical convert, the youngest of three brothers. I was eight when I asked to become a Catholic and my parents had to sign a form because from the perspective of the State I was not mature enough to make such a claim.
“When good Catholics ask me what happened to your family? Did they convert too? Then I can give the record that later on my brothers converted and still later my mother converted, and then they are somehow pleased, and they find that that’s okay. But I tell you that I am very grateful to my brothers especially that they converted only much later when I was a Jesuit because I didn’t want them to convert, because that was my kingdom!

“So what I am saying is that we do have all of us also the desire to express identity for ourselves, and we are not always wanting that everyone becomes streamlined and uniform and so that that is why there is the famous phrase coined for ecumenical dialogue especially ‘unity in reconciled in diversity’. That is a very catchy phrase but what is behind that is also much more problematic. What does that mean? I can assure you that everyone who comes from families of mixed religious background know how complex that is. That is to say that my identity is also this love relationship with the other which is somehow important and I have grown to love this . My father is the only one who has not converted and I have always respected him even more for the fact that as a faithful Lutheran he stood by his wife who had been converted by his sons, but while staying a Lutheran. So things are not as smooth as we sometimes think.”

The NatDEIC Conference Delegates  Fr Philipp Renczes addressing the conference  Prof. Philipp Renczes SJ  The Lutheran visitors: Marlene Pietsch, Rev. Dale Gosden, Rev. Wayne Muschamp and Rev. Andrew Brook  Marlene talks about Reformation Sunday  Joint Prayer with Lutherans  Archbishop Prowse and Pastor Brook lead the prayers  Fr Renczes gives the public lecture  Rabbi Fred Morgan gives the response  Rabbi Fred Morgan  Executive Officer of the EIC David Schutz with Fr Renczes  New pals! 

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