Studium Theologicum Salesianum
Salesian Pontifical University : Faculty of Theology - Jerusalem Campus

Mercy Without Boundaries


Jerusalem, 10 March 2016
Romero D’Souza SDB

On the 10 March 2016, the Studium Theologicum Salesianum (STS), Jerusalem Campus of the Salesian Pontifical University was privileged to host the conference on “MERCY WITHOUT BOUNDARIES” in celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Words of welcome were given by Rev Fr Biju Michael SDB, the President of STS, who introduced the theme of the conference by reflecting briefly on Art. 23 of Misericordiae Vultus There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church. It relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes”. He then introduced the Panellists – His Lordship Most Rev. William H. Shomali (Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem); Rabbi David Rosen (International Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs & Understanding); Khadi Iyad Zahalka (Judge and the head of Sharia courts in Jerusalem and active in inter-religious relations); and Rev. Fr Francesco Voltaggio (Professor at the Neo-Catechumenate Redemptoris Mater Seminary, Domus Galilea and regular speaker for Radio Maria).

In his opening words, Bishop Shomali (the Chairperson) highlighted the relevance of the topic to the current reality of the Holy Land and the Middle East where there is a need to root out violence and let mercy rule.Quoting Pope Francis,he exhorted: “I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination” (Misericordiae Vultus, 23).Bishop Shomali went on to present four challenges: one, how does one reconcile social evils and human suffering with a God of mercy? Two, why does God not interfere in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Three, the need to reconcile divine mercy and divine justice; and, four, how to educate young people to mercy? The audience was challenged to reflect as Christians, as followers of different religions to visualize how mercy has socio-political and economic dimensions. He also led the prayer asking God the merciful Father to enlighten and guide our minds and hearts as we come together in discussing and reflecting on MERCY.

The conference had two main sessions: the presentation of the papers by the panellists and the group discussion focusing on the themes presented and discussed in the first session.

Khadi Iyad Zahalka, the first speaker presented the Mercy of God in Islam. He elaborated on the following themes: Islam is the religion of mercy, and mercy is the basic idea of Islam; Sharia is based on mercy and has five objectives: Serving God; Serving people without discrimination, all lives are holy in Islam; Serving the mental ability of every person; Serving the children, to create an identity for children, to belong to family and Serving the wellness of everyone. Another key component of his presentation was the element of “punishment”. He further spoke of mercy, not only limited to human beings, but also to and for animals. He responded to questions from the audience on how to bring a coherence between the tenets of Islam and actual practice in the context of terrorism and violence propagated by some groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram.

The Mercy of God in Judaism – Rabbi David Rosen elaborated on a number of different words of mercy from the Jewish traditionsuch as God as the Merciful one (Harachamim), Divine Transcendence (Elohim), Divine Immanence (HaShem). He noted the inherent tension between the two Divine attributes: Justice and Mercy (midatharachamim). He further dealt with themes such as creation and mercy, judgment and mercy, the sayings of the Rabbis on mercy (quoting from varied sources), the concept of Teshuvah (Return) which testifies to Judaism’s affirmation that God’s mercy always has the upper hand over His judgment, God’s mercy experienced by the Jewish people within the context of His Covenant with Israel, finally and most extensively elaborated on Divine Mercy and Chesed (loving kindness, steadfast love, and mercy) making use of the Books of the Pentateuch and the Prophets. At the end of his presentation, issues such as interpreting obscure texts that speak of violence, the reality of historical wounds suffered by the Jewish people and the current situation of the Holy Land were addressed.

Dr. Francesco Voltaggio, the third speaker, presented the Mercy of God in Christianity. He developed his presentation in four parts: The rahămīm (depths) of God in the Old Testament; the divine Rahamim revealed in Jesus Christ; the mercy and maternity of the Church; and the works of mercy according to Christian Tradition. Citing extensively the Church Fathers and Church Documents, Dr.Voltaggio stressed the movement of transformation from the "homo homini lupus" to "homo homini Deus", giving importance to the fact that for Christians this is a true fortiori, after the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He further argued that speaking of God as infinite mercy and as perfect justice are not contradictions.

After the presentation of the papers the participants were divided into groups to reflect on key issues that emerged from the presentations with regard to the understanding of the word and meaning of MERCY and the acts and works of MERCY. The groups presented answers to the question: How can the understanding of Divine Mercy lead to the practice of “mercy” as a way to peace among God’s children?”

After the groups had a chance to present their insights and concerns, the panellists responded with their final comments.Bishop Shomali in his concluding remarks said that we have to uproot and take away violence by using the medicine, which is mercy. He spoke about the works of mercy taking place in the Holy Land where 640 Palestinian children are treated at the Israeli Hadassah Hospital. He also referredto Germany and other countries that welcome and support over a million Syrian refugees as examples of mercy at work in our world.

The symposium was brought to a conclusion with the vote of thanks proposed by Erastus Nduati Chege, the Student Representative of the STS.
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