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 firstname.lastname@example.org
if you wish to be put on a list to receive this material when it is ready for
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.”