On 7th December 2022, Fr. Dr. Moses WANJALA, Sdb, a Professor of Liturgy at Salesian Pontifical University, Studium Theologicum Salesianum – Jerusalem Campus, delivered a conference to the INTER-FAITH GROUP of the Association of Jewish and Christian academics and religious leaders in Jerusalem – Israel, on the theme: Sacred Art and Images in Catholic Liturgy and Worship.

In the first place, he clarified what sacred art or images (icon) and worship entail; what we use these images for; what reverence or respect we pay to images and how, why or with what attitude (intention) we use images, signs, symbols, objects, words and actions that involve the human person’s faculties of the body, mind, heart and soul, precisely the use of senses in Catholic liturgical Worship. In our “liturgy of life” or in our relationship (encounter) with God and with each other, we should always be conscious of what sacred images are used for, and with what intention we use them!

He emphasized the fact that Christian images, unfold beliefs, principles, themes and realities that should basically be drawn from the Sacred Scriptures. These images are mediations, means or vehicles that facilitate our understanding and relationship with God-others-self, in a way that enables every human person to transcend from the visible, material human realities of art to the invisible spiritual-divine realities, with a transformation or shift from (through) the body to the spirit.

Sacred art unfolds, reveals, conserves or keeps the religious, biblical traditions alive, since sacred images make it easier for the human person to visualize or understand an event (expressed in art) that would otherwise be difficult to imagine, explain or to understand only with mere words, however many they may be. Moreover, sacred images expound and manifest or reveal Biblical-moral messages, for the image has a strong power that speaks so much that its impacts remain easily imprinted in people’s minds, hearts, lives and whole being, for instance, the sacred image of Creation (cf. Gen 1 and 2); God’s Covenant with Noah (cf. Gen 9:1-17); the Jewish Passover (cf. Ex 12); Crossing the Red Sea (cf. Ex 14:21-29); the Washing of the feet (cf. Mt 26: 14-39; Jn 13:2-17) within the context of the Last Supper before Jesus’ crucifixion (cf. Mt 26:17-30; Mk 14:12-25; Lk 22:7-38; 1 Cor 11:23-25) unfold many human and Christian virtues like fraternity, solidarity, charity, patience, generosity, sacrifice, humility, tenderness, love, hospitality, friendship, care, forgiveness, peace, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, unity.

The heart or centrality of our discussion on the question of images is based on the first commandment of the Decalogue which emphasizes that adoration should be given only to the one and unique God: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image (idol), or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Ex 20:4; cf. Deut 5:8).

On one hand, we could literally interpret the first commandment as an absolute commandment that completely forbids the making of any image or anything anywhere that represents human persons, animals, plants or any form of creation. In the same optic, God’s people are not only told not to adore and not to serve the images; they are commanded not to make any graven thing or even the likeness of anything at all in heaven above, on earth and under the earth! The fear is that if they try to represent anything or make any graven image like statues or pictures, just as it happened with the story of the “golden calf” in Exodus 32, they may end up adoring or worshipping it, and in this case, this is idolatry which is abominable, and yet the Law, instead, emphasizes that adoration should be totally addressed to the one unique and only God, and not to anything else or not to any strange gods.

On the other hand, however, the Old Testament exceptionally presents us with episodes, where some living things, according to the law, were used as ornaments or decorations of the Temple: with lions and bulls that supported the Temple basins (cf. 1 Kgs 7:25, 29); with garlands of fruits, flowers and trees (cf. Num 8:4; 1 Kgs 6:18; 7:36); with offering for the Tabernacle (cf. Ex 25-31; 35-40); with the Ark of the Covenant surrounded by “images of beasts” (cf. Ez 1:5;10-20) and with the lamp stand as described by the instructions given by God to Moses, generally in Exodus 25:1-40 (cf. 1 Kgs 6:23-8; 8:6-7), all these, were commanded to be made, without any intention to worship them.

Within this perspective, we, therefore, notice that the mysterious beings that cover and protect the place of divine revelation can be RE-PRESENTED by material realities, precisely to conceal, to express and to unfold the great Mystery of the powerful presence of God himself among His own people as the Author and Creator who gives life, even in our sinfulness, woundedness, helplessness, as noted in God’s healing intervention through the image of the blood on the door posts during the Exodus event (cf. Ex 12) and the image of the lifted fiery brazen serpent in the form of the Cross (cf. Num 21:5-9).

We also gradually realize that not only the ancient Jewish Synagogues but also the early Christian Churches in the first Centuries of persecution, precisely in the Catacombs and on sarcophagi, were painted with representations of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, with symbols of fish, loaves, vines, palms, candle lights, but most especially, with the images of the ministry or deeds of Christ, the Good Shepherd. These poor, persecuted first Christian communities of the early Centuries often used images to visibly express their inner-most, profound or deep joyful and sorrowful sentiments, beliefs or trust in God in every situation. With the many gifts, specifically the gifts of wisdom and (in) art, we could say that the Bible was not only written in Words but also expressed in art in order to facilitate the comprehension of God’s marvelous works right from Creation, through-with-in His Redemption in Jesus Christ to His second coming at the end of time, even to those who could not read and write. Sacred art was not regarded as mere images of the past events in history but rather, these sacred images were celebrated as a live narrative (haggadah or telling of God’s works) that commemorate, remember or re-call to mind God’s wonderful deeds of love, His providence and His interventions towards his people in the past, and how these deeds of the past are celebrated, re-enacted, re-lived, and made alive in the present moment hic et nunc (here and now) within the Liturgy, Sacraments and in people’s lives or ways of living today (culture), in view of the future life with God forever, all thanks to the mediation of the sacred Words and sacred images that are always derived from the events that are revealed and described from within the Sacred Scriptures. Basically, during these festive moments, every human person and every community participates in God’s action in time, and the Sacred images themselves, as remembrance in visible form, are involved in the re-presentation of these WONDERS (marvels) of God towards humanity.

Regarding the use, treatment, intention and reverence paid to the sacred images, we learn that it was very clear right from the first Christians that no art or images should be adored because adoration is reserved only for the One and unique Almighty God. But yet, the place of honour that the Christians gave to their sacred symbols, signs, pictures, images or icons and the care with which they decorated them, argue that they treated their most Sacred-Biblical images - with at least decent respect or reverence because these sacred images were seen as vehicles or signs that eventually led or pointed to the Divine. For instance, if it was seen as normal for people to revere, bow, kiss, incense the imperial eagles, images and empty throne of Caesar (without suspecting any form of idolatry), then the early Christians also found it, even more appropriate that more reverence should be given to what is real, fundamental and transcendental, that is: the Images of Christ our Saviour; the Word of God which is spirit and life for us; the Cross, symbol of our Salvation, pointing to the Passion, Death, Resurrection and new life with God through-with-in Christ; the Altar, place of Sacrifice where God Himself feeds His own people with His own Body and Blood, etc.

The only reasonable standard measure in venerating any person, image or object by means of genuflections, bows, kisses, incense and any signs or gestures, is always the INTENTION or aim of any person that uses them, because sacred images are only a means for us to know, to love and to serve better the One and only God, but they are not at all an end in themselves. In other words, although it is clear that the sign of anyone or anything in itself, like the national flag, the statue of an outstanding or esteemed person or Saint, is not the prototype (original), it is equally clear that a respect, reverence or honour given to the sign of the image of someone or something represented by the image, is a respect to the person or the thing of which it is a sign, and similarly, a disrespect or insult to the same sign (image) of anyone or anything is a disrespect or insult to the person or thing signified in the image. Hence, we honour or respect the prototype (the original that we may not even physically see) by honouring the sign or symbol (that visibly represents or points to the prototype).

It is within this perspective of the intention and honour awarded to the image that Trent remarks:

Images of Christ, the Virgin Mother of God, and other saints are to be held and kept especially in churches, that due honour and reverence are to be paid to them, not that any divinity or power is thought to be in them for the sake of which they may be worshipped, or that anything can be asked of them, or that any trust may be put in images, as was done by the heathen who put their trust in their idols [Psalm 134:15], but because the honour shown to them is referred to the prototypes which they represent, so that by kissing, uncovering to, kneeling before images we adore Christ and honour the saints whose likeness they bear (Denzinger, no. 986). 

Honouring any sacred image, thus, leads us to honor and adore “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6) because “we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8). The Image of Jesus Christ and those of the Saints are not pictures, for they enable us to move from the material realm to the spiritual realm that enables us to perceive the Invisible through the visible realities.

During the liturgical celebrations, the deeds of God in the past are made present, thanks to the mediation of the sacred Words and sacred images that are always derived from the events that are revealed and described from within the Sacred Scriptures. In the liturgical celebration of life, every human person and every family and community participates fully consciously and actively in God’s action in time, and these Sacred images themselves, as remembrance in visible form, are involved in the re-presentation of the marvelous WONDERS that God our Father did in the past; that He continues to do now and that He will do in the future for his people, always out of love for His children.

One of the greatest Sacred Image is the Image of the GOOD SHEPHERD (Jn 10:11-18; cf. Ps 23) that sums up the entire History of our Salvation, when at the fullness of time (cf. Gal 4:4-7), God entered into the sensible world of our time and history, with the Incarnation of the “Word that became flesh and dwelt among us” in Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1:14); recapitulating everything in Christ (cf. Eph 1:3-10); searched for the lost sheep (cf. Lk 15) and made a homeward path into the Church of the Jews and Gentiles, thereby reconciling and embracing every human person and the whole of creation, and orienting everything back to God, the Creator, Alpha and Omega of everything.

At this point, we emphasize the Supremacy of the Image (Icon) of the Invisible God, made visible in Jesus Christ, inviting us to journey from our Creation to our Deification; and from our being created in the image and likeness of God to our being united in the Trinitarian communion relationship:

The Son is the IMAGE of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the Cross (Col 1:15-20).

St. Paul  presents Jesus Christ as the Image of the Invisible God (cf. Col 1:15-20) implying that by focusing our glance at Christ, we concretely experience, already now, the true nature of God and come to know, love and serve the Father whom we have not yet physically seen. It is worth highlighting the close, intrinsic relationship between the invisible Father and the visible Son Jesus Christ at the incarnation, through the Holy Spirit. It is impressive that even before Christ is explicitly described as the Image of God, right from Genesis, the first pages of the Scriptures, the human person is said to have been created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27).

It is important to note that Jesus Christ as the Visible Image of the Invisible God, is not like other finite images or objects or paintings of persons or things that are a means that lead or point to God, but rather the Person of Jesus Christ Himself is the INFINITE God Himself, the Beginning and END of everything; the Son of God that was present right from the beginning and that created the world with His own Word that incarnated or became visible in the flesh for our Salvation and now dwells among His own people and journeys with everyone at all times and in all circumstances, for He assures everyone: “surely, I am with you always, to the very end of time (age)” (Mt 28:20).

All in all, it is Christ who perfectly Images God and the image of the human person is mirrored, signified and fulfilled in the Image of Christ. There is no better or fuller way of seeing and finding the Image of God than to behold, gaze and be illumined, warmed and set aflame by the incarnate Person of Jesus Christ, for whoever has seen Christ, has seen the Father (cf. Jn 14:8-10), because Jesus, the Son and the Father are one (cf. Jn 10:30; Jn 17:21). We notice that God our Father gives us Jesus Christ as a Visual or Visible example of what or who the Image of God is. Through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, every human person is invited to conform his/her life to the life, heart and Person of Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 8:29) in order to become true sons and daughters of God our Father, because in conforming our image to the Image of God in Christ, we actualize, realize, fulfill and find meaning in our human vocation or calling, for the goal, aim and purpose of the existence (lives) of every human person is our “Deification”, that is, to become Divine like Jesus who is God made flesh (human) for the Salvation of all.

In our attempt to understand the significant impact of sacred images, the senses are not to be discarded, but they should be expanded to their widest capacity, so as to lead us from the visible reality of images to the INVISIBLE DIVINE reality – God Himself, because in the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Heb 1:1-4).

Essentially, the images of beauty, in which the mystery of the Invisible God becomes visible (as described in the Sacred Scriptures), are an essential part of Christian worship. The real “action” in liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God Himself who acts through His Spirit and works through-with-in us, thanks for the mediation of everything that is within us and around us, including the images.

In liturgy and life, sacred images do not merely illustrate the succession of past events of the history of Salvation, but they rather point to a presence as they reveal the inner unity of God’s continuous healing and salvific action in every reality of the human person today, here and now, as noted in the Sacraments, most especially, in Baptism, Eucharist and Penance (Reconciliation). In this way, these sacred images, signs, symbols and Sacraments are tangible or visible mediations that enable us to encounter the Divine and having been empowered by the Divine, they enable us to nourish and empower each other with the Divine life and love infused and operating in and through us. In other words, these images and Sacraments facilitate the dialogue and encounter with God, with the person himself and with every human and created realities.

We now evidence some basic characteristics of Sacred images. Christian sacred images are intended to be: Trinitarian, for the Holy Spirit gives us the gift to see, to know and to love Christ – the Image of God – that leads us to the Father; Christological, for they reveal the Paschal memorial and new life accomplished in Christ; Sacred, since they come from Scripture and prayer and lead us to the prayer of the Word of God; Sacramental and Anamnetical, for they make historical-Biblical events of God’s action in the past, present, in view of the future; Liturgical, because they draw us eastward to the celebration of the entire Mystery or life of Christ centered around His Paschal mystery, enabling us to encounter God through our brothers and sisters and in all creation; Incarnational, for they manifest how God became flesh, entering and purifying our human fragilities and realities – so material can now illustrate God, and how the material (flesh) draws us to experience and encounter the Divine; Eschatological, because they point towards the final destiny of every human person and the world to come where we shall experience happiness forever as we see God face to face (cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18).

As a psycho-somatic being, composed of body and soul, the human person participates in liturgy, or in his encounter with the Divine, not only through his soul but also through his body, thanks to the mediation of sacred art, images, signs, symbols, postures, gestures, voices, vestments, matter easily perceived by the body, that facilitate a full, conscious, active and effective participation in liturgical Worship and life, because Catholic liturgy is the liturgy of the Word made flesh (sacramental and concrete). In the liturgy of the Word made flesh, matter (like the image) is the vehicle towards the Divine.

On speaking about sacred art and sacred furnishings, the Second Vatican Council Document Sacrosanctum concilium (SC 122-130) promotes and emphasizes the importance of art in the Catholic Church because it promotes Christian spirituality and strengthens our way of believing (faith), our way of praying the Word of God and our way of living the Word of God (lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi). The Catholic Church promotes all forms of art and admits all styles from every period and peoples, as long as these forms of art help the human person to grow and strengthen his/her relationship with God and with each other. Sacrosanctum Concilium  also reminds us that the Bishop has the responsibility of promoting the sobriety, modesty and noble beauty in all art works (architecture, pictures, statues, articles and vestments used for liturgical sacred actions) by getting help of trained artists, experts and craftsmen for art works, always drawing inspiration from the Holy Scriptures, with an aim of facilitating the encounter of the human with the Divine, ensuring that art inspires Faith, Morals and Christian Piety (love, peace, harmony, unity, solidarity, fraternity), and making sure that it does not offend the true religious sense. Providentially, even Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger reflects on the theme of art, images, body and liturgy in part three and four of his book: “The Spirit of the Liturgy,” San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000.

We may sum up the question of veneration of any form of sacred art and images in liturgy with some conclusive highlights: it is forbidden to give Divine Worship or adoration directed to anything or anyone because Supreme Adoration, Supplication and Worship belongs and should be always directed to One God alone; we should respect or honour the angels and Saints because they imitate Jesus Christ who, though He was in the form of God, He humbled Himself, emptied Himself, took the form of a slave – servant, became human as we are (cf. Phil 2:6-8); Jesus loved, sacrificed Himself for us and offered His whole life for the poor, least, last, lost, sinners, marginalized and broken hearted, reconciling, saving, healing and bringing everyone back to God; we should give a relative honour or respect to sacred images, relics, crucifixes and holy pictures, for they are linked to Christ and are memorials or commemorations of Him, bearing in mind that sacred images point to a real presence - God; it is clear for us that our one and primary intention is to pray to God alone and that we do not pray to any images, pictures or statues, since they can neither see nor hear nor help us, but we use these sacred images as one of the languages or means to pray to God alone; we Worship, adore, trust and glorify ONLY ONE GOD; Jesus Christ is the Visible Image (per excellence) of the Invisible God, not like other finite images that are a means that lead to God, but rather He Himself is the INFINITE God made Visible, in flesh for us. In a nutshell, sacred images are like a sign post pointing to the original Author of everything that exists; they are a vehicle or a means to an end, pointing to the DIVINE who receives and deserves ALL the honour, respect, adoration, glory and thanksgiving because our God is the beginning and end (Alpha and Omega) of everything that exists.

Fr Moses Wanjala SDB

7th December 2022


Fr Moses Wanjala SDB, Assistant Professor at STS, presents his book, Foretaste of the Heavenly Liturgy. Commemorating, Celebrating and Living

Below is the cover page for his book



Click the following YOUTUBE link to view the presentation:   FORETASTE OF THE HEAVENLY LITURGY, 2015 Book by Moses WANJALA, SDB

To download a FREE COPY of the book click here

February 24, 2022



Fr Moses Wanjala SDB, presents his book


On Tuesday 15th February 2022, Fr. Eric John Wyckoff, SDB, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at our Faculty, held a conference at Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF): “The Biblical Well Encounters: Untangling a Crux Interpretum. John 4:1-42 among the Biblical Well Encounters. Pentateuchal and Johannine Narrative Reconsidered”.


For the report of this event and the text of the conference click the following link: 


February 15, 2022






The Saint James Vicariate is an integral part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Our Vicariate gathers the Hebrew-speaking Catholics who live in Israel, those belonging to the Jewish people together with those coming from the nations, including a number of local Christians and migrants. We form one community in Jesus Christ and we belong to one Church. We are in union with Pope Francis, with the Patriarch, his vicars, the priests and all the faithful of the Latin Patriarchate. In the same time, we are at home in the Israeli Jewish, Hebrew speaking society.

Before becoming a Vicariate, the “Association of Saint James” was founded in 1955 as a Catholic association dedicated to developing Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities in the State of Israel. Saint James was the head of the early Christian community in Jerusalem, at the time of the apostles. A pious Jew, he worked to establish a community made up of Jews and non-Jews, united in their common faith in Jesus as the Messiah (see the Book of Acts, chapter 15). According to the Tradition, he died as a martyr in 62 A.D., and he is the patron of the diocese of Jerusalem.

Since 2013, the Saint James Vicariate constitutes an autonomous Vicariate within the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Today, Hebrew speaking Catholic communities are active essentially in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa, Beer Sheba and Tiberias. The Vicariate includes communities of Russian speaking faithful. The priests and faithful of the Vicariate are much engaged in the pastoral and catechetical service of the Hebrew speaking children of migrants and asylum seekers spread throughout the country.

Four main challenges face the Saint James Vicariate:

  1. Transmission of the faith: Constituting a Catholic minority within a society that has a Jewish majority is a new experience in the history of the Church. Therefore, The Vicariate has a mission to nurture the faith of its small communities, particularly the children and youth, who live and are integrated into the Hebrew speaking Jewish society. 
  2. Serving as a bridge between the Universal Church and the people of Israel: The Vicariate works to strengthen the relationship between Jews and Christians, sharpening the Church’s awareness of its Jewish roots and of the Jewish identity of Jesus and his apostles. The Vicariate seeks to sharpen the awareness of Jews in Israel with regard to the history, teaching and contribution of the Church to society. Our faithful are engaged fully in the life of Israeli Jewish society and in the life of the Catholic Church.
  3. Bearing witness to justice and peace, serving the poor: As an integral part of the Church in the Holy Land, the Vicariate promotes the values of peace and justice, pardon and reconciliation within a context of violence and war. Moreover, the Vicariate has a special mission to the tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who reside in the country.
  4. Interreligious dialogue: Since its origins Saint James Vicariate has been sensitive to interreligious dialogue, especially with the Jewish people amidst whom our faithful reside. Some of our interreligious activities, involving both Muslims and Jews, make us experience that we, human beings, can live together in peace and understanding despite the painful and unresolved political problems.

Through all these activities, and without any form of proselytism, the Saint James Vicariate proves to bear witness, always and everywhere, to the message of Christ who commanded his disciples to be faithful, truthful, merciful, and peacemakers.

A detailed history of our communities, from the year 1947, can be found on our site where you can also find the news from the communities, liturgical materials and other interesting content in five languages (Hebrew, English, French, Russian and Italian):

In case you would like to experience the way we pray, feel invited for the everyday Mass in Hebrew. We are at RavKook Street 10 and the Eucharist is always at

- Prof. Piotr Zelazko

October 13, 2021


A Latin Christian meets his Orthodox friend in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and asks him: “On which day is the resurrection of your Jesus this year?” – “Well, four weeks after yours.”

This anecdote shows what living and supporting ecumenism in the Holy City really means: having a large calendar in which all the different dates of the Christian feasts can be logged in. Is it not strange that Christianity prays to be “one in Christ” but insists on different dates for Easter, Christmas and other important liturgical feasts? Or is it true, what malicious tongues tell us: There are different liturgical dates for the Christians, because there is not enough space for all the Patriarchs with their entourage in the grotto of the Nativity Church and in the tomb of the Holy Sepulchre?

While this year (2021) the Anglicans, some Armenians, Roman-Catholics, Protestants and others, celebrated Easter on April 4 th , the Eastern Catholics together with the Greek and Russian Orthodox had their Easter Sunday nearly one month later (28 days), on May 2 nd . In some years the difference of the Easter date between the Christian denominations reaches a maximum of 35 days, in other years it is on exactly the same day for all Christians. It is one of the many signs of division and fragmentation that Christians celebrate Easter on very different dates.

However, certain events of the last weeks around Easter show that the ecumenical movement among Christians is not dead but very alive and active: On March 9, 2021, Archbishop Job Getcha of Telmessos (Autocephal Ucrainian Orthodox Church and representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople at the World Council of Churches) suggested that the year 2025, which will be the 1,700 th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), would be a good year to unify the date of Easter (and consequently of all the other feasts, too) in all the calendars of Christianity and from then on to celebrate on the same date every year.

In 2014, the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II (Egypt) had already suggested the unification of the date of Easter for all the Christian Churches. His proposal had been supported by other important representatives of Churches: the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (Eastern Orthodox Church) and the Roman Pontiff. One year later in 2015 Pope Francis even had proposed the second Sunday in April as the general date for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for all Christians in the world, referring back to a suggestion made by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. While the latest proposal of 2021 had been appreciated highly by some Christian denominations, e.g. the Holy See and his representative for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, others rejected this suggestion entirely: Cardinal Koch´s Russian Orthodox counterpart, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolams (Chairman of the Moscow´s Patriarchat ´s Department for External Church Relations) immediately replied that a unification of the Easter date “is not on the agenda of the (Russian) Orthodox Church” and in any case the Russian Orthodox has “no intention” of changing the traditional system of the Easter date in their Church.

But why are there different dates of Easter in the one and only Christianity today? – All Christian denominations follow the same tradition of the 1 st Council of Nicea (325), which determined that Easter Sunday has to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the beginning of spring and after the Jewish Feast of Passover (Pesach). With this decision of the Fathers of the Council of Nicea an intense controversy of the Early Church came to an end: The dominant Roman Christians and their tradition exulted, while Christians in Eastern Provinces as Asia and Syria who celebrated the tradition of the 14 th Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover feast (for this they were called the “quartodecimans”), had to change their custom.

After the Council of Nicea, the Easter date was fixed for all Christians on the same respected date for more than 1,000 years. Today the Eastern and the Western Churches celebrate Easter again on different days, what happened? The current problem is simple but at the same time complex: all Christian Churches are still following the rules of Nicea, but they use different calendars. While the Churches of the Eastern (mostly Orthodox) tradition follow the Julian calendar, the Churches of the Western tradition follow the Gregorian calendar. But the system of the “Julian calendar”, named after the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar (46 BC), had a flaw: it lagged behind the solar year more and more throughout the centuries, and in the 16 th century the difference was up to ten days. The Catholic Church as scientific authority at this time decided on a new counting of the dates in order to bring the solar year and the calendar back into harmony. This “Gregorian calendar”, named after Pope Gregor XIII, came to birth in October 1582, skipping ten days of the former Julian calendar and setting 365 days per year, including a “leap year” with 366 days every four years. By the way, it is a fascinating part of Church history that Teresa of Ávila, the great nun and saint that reformed the Carmelite order, died on October 4, 1582, the last day when the Julian calendar was in force, and had been buried one day later, which was October 15, 1582. Today most countries of the world follow the counting of the Gregorian calendar, including the (Western) Christian Churches. And the Julian calendar is still in use in the liturgy of the Eastern (Orthodox) Churches.

Is there any solution for this difference? Experts of theology are still in discussion. Father Nicodemus Schnabel, Benedictine monk of Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem and expert for Eastern Liturgy, in April 2021 proposed the “Jewish-Christian solution” that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday after Nisan 14 th (Passover / Pesach), following the Hebrew (lunar) calendar. This led Andrea Riedl, deputy Professor at the Chair of Early Church History and Patrology at the University of Regensburg, Germany, to the harsh response that the first “Christians” at the time of the Early Church drew a strict line to Jewish Pesach (traditions) e.g. by emphasizing Sunday as the day of the Resurrection of Jesus (cf. Didache). Representatives of the Chief Rabbinate (in Germany) also took part in this Catholic theological discussion by pointing out that the difference between Passover and Easter marks an important point of intersection between Judaism and Christianity. These feasts, traditions and their religious backgrounds should not be mixed, but Christian Churches should be aware of their Jewish roots, as long as the Christian denominations still show enormous differences regarding Judaism – from anti-Semitism to fraternity. Father Nicodemus Schnabel rounded off the topic by emphasizing Jewish-Christian dialogue in unifying a common Christian date of Easter after the Jewish Feast of Pesach.

It seems that the current Christian discussion on the date of Easter opened up a new minefield. Is there any possibility of a peaceful solution – although we are well aware that even the Early Church Councils appeared more than a battlefield of bishops than a unanimous choir prayer?

The current discussion reminds me of an anecdote attributed to the Austrian Jew and Israeli philosopher Martin Buber (1878–1965), told by the Romanian born Jewish-American writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (1928–2016): While Jewish faithful are still waiting for the Messiah coming to redeem the world at the end of the days, Christian faithful are also waiting for Jesus the Messiah’s return. And so, Buber declared, we should all wait together. He
continued: “And no doubt when the Messiah comes in those end days, someone will lean over and ask in his ear, ‘Hey, have you been here before?’ And when that happens, I hope I’m here too so I can caution him, ‘For heaven’s sake, whatever you do, don’t answer that’”.

Not only in Jerusalem the calendar of religious feasts shows duplications and tensions between Christian Churches and Jewish holydays. If we take 1 Cor 8:6 seriously, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist”, we should no longer doubt and debate one unified Easter date, but take first steps and actions to one Christian celebration in different rites.

- Sr. Gabriela Zinkl, SMCB, SThD

April 3, 2021

Inside the Tomb


FRUCTUM DABIT;  Planting Seeds of Hope and Creating a Culture of Dialogue.

First, I wish to express my gratitude to the President of the STS for his invitation to speak to you on the occasion of the opening of the second semester of this strange year. It would have been more pleasant to have been among you physically, but we are all getting used to distancing, and we thank God for the technology that keeps us linked.

It would have been difficult to refuse the invitation, particularly since the topic to be addressed was cunningly formulated to begin with my episcopal motto, Fructum Dabit. So let me explain first where this motto comes from and what it means for me.

The words come from the second strophe of Psalm 1. In the Jerusalem Bible version it reads as follows:

He is like a tree that is planted                                                                                                         
by water streams                       
yielding its fruit in season. its                                                                                                   
leaves never fading; 
success attends all he does.

The full Latin version of the third line is fructum dabit in tempore suo. I wished to take this expression as my motto, but I was told it was too long. The words missed out have to be understood, as they are important as I shall explain.

That which “will give fruit” (you will have recognized the future tense of dabit, even though in the JB it is translated by an active participle) is a tree planted by running water. When in 1992 I was made a bishop by Pope Saint John Paul II I was given as a titular see Nepte. Nepte is the ancient name for Nefta, in Tunisia, which is an oasis famous for its date palms. So the fruit-bearing tree recalls my diocese. 

The psalm says: “He is like a tree”. The “he” refers to the just man “who never follows the advice of the wicked” (Ps 1:1). In referring to this fruit-bearing tree I was assuredly not thinking of myself, but rather of the process of dialogue to which my whole missionary life has been dedicated. 

When you plant a date-palm you cannot expect to get fruit from it immediately. You have to wait until the palm-tree matures. It will bear fruit, but in season, in its own good time. This for me is an excellent symbol of interreligious dialogue. When you engage in dialogue you cannot expect to see fruits immediately. You have to allow the fruits to develop in their own good time. You have to be patient. So dialogue is an activity to be engaged in with much patience, but also with great hope, because you know that the fruit will come.

It is in this spirit that we shall now turn to Fratelli Tutti, to see how it is planting seeds of hope and contributing to create a culture of dialogue.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti, is presenting a broad vision of the future where “the barriers of geography and distance” are transcended, in which every person “regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives” (1) is concerned. This is surely intended by the “Tutti” of the title. Moreover the Pope has a universal readership for his letter in view, for he says in the introduction:

Although I have written it from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will (6).

As an example of transcending barriers reference is made at the beginning of the letter to the visit of St Francis of Assisi, whom the Pope chose as the Patron for his pontificate, to the Sultan Malik al-Kamil, a visit carried out during the Crusades, across the borders of warring factions, a visit full of respect by a Christian to one who was considered an infidel and an enemy (cf.3). Dialogue, as a border-crossing activity, is something that Pope Francis himself is engaged in, following the example of St Francis. He has developed a friendship with a Muslim leader, Dr Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar. It is interesting to note that the Pope says that just as he drew inspiration from Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the preparation of his previous encyclical, Laudato Si’, in writing this letter on “Fraternity and social friendship” he has felt encouraged by Dr Al-Tayyeb with whom, on 4 February 2019, he had signed the document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together (cf.5). At the end of Fratelli Tutti he pays tribute to others who have inspired him and who are not Catholics, mentioning in particular Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi (cf. 286).

Though Fratelli Tutti is long (287 paragraphs, 140 pages in the Catholic Truth Society edition), it does not claim to offer “complete teaching on fraternal love” but only “a modest contribution to continued reflection” in the hope of arousing “a new vision of fraternity and social friendship” (6). We could surely say that Pope Francis is sowing seeds of hope.

I would say that Pope Francis is issuing to all of us a wake-up call. He is a dreamer – his book written in conversation with Austin Ivereigh is entitled Let Us Dream – but he does not live in a dream world. He is a realist. The first chapter of Fratelli Tutti, “Dark Clouds over a Closed World” gives a sombre picture of the world we live in. Because there is an emphasis on promoting individual interests, we tend to feel alone (12). Because also there has been a loss of historical consciousness, we have lost touch with our roots (13). This leaves us more vulnerable. A tree that has strong roots going deep underground can withstand the storm. We know that when trees have been cut down landslides take place, landslides which sweep everything away. Perhaps this very fragility weakens our respect for nature and for the gifts of nature. We are tempted to use everything as quickly as possible, and then to jettison it when it is exhausted. So we find ourselves in what Pope Francis describes as “a ‘throwaway’ world”, where it is not only material goods, even food, that is thrown away, but also people who are rejected as being useless (19). Already in the introduction Pope Francis had referred to the Covid-19 pandemic which, he says, has exposed our false securities (7). We have all been shaken by this storm and, as he said in his solitary prayer for an end to the pandemic: “We are all in the same boat together”. All this can lead to discouragement and despair. Yet Pope Francis ends this chapter with two paragraphs on hope.

He speaks of “new paths of hope”, going on to explain that “God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family” (54). We have seen this in the generous response of so many to the pandemic. Hope, he adds “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart…of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love” (55). 

Everything is connected. We humans are all connected. We belong to one human family. Chapter 2 of Fratelli Tutti, “A Stranger on the Road” is a long reflection on the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.

Although this Letter is addressed to all people of good will, regardless of their religious convictions, the parable [told by Jesus and at the heart of the Gospel] is one that any of us can relate to and find challenging (56).  

This parable can be considered an illustration of inter-connectedness. Francis invites us to consider the characters in the parable and ask ourselves “with which persons do I identify?” I will leave you to do this for yourselves. I wish only to call attention to the inn-keeper. The Samaritan does not try to do everything on his own. He links up with the inn-keeper, promising to pay for the unexpected guest, and the inn-keeper would appear to have trusted this benefactor. We can ask ourselves: Are we ready to cooperate with other people, even if they do not belong to our race or religion, or our social standing? Are we able to create a climate of trust that can lead to cooperation? Such trust is bred by faith, for 

faith has untold power to inspire and sustain our respect for others, for believers come to know that God loves every man and woman with infinite love and thereby confers infinite dignity upon all humanity (85).

I would be inclined to add a further question from the perspective of inter-faith dialogue: Are we ready to move from a “dialogue of life”, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations, to a “dialogue of action”, collaborating to find solutions to these problems and to improve the conditions of life? It is noteworthy that Jesus, after having told this parable, does not ask “Who is the neighbour?” but “Which one proved to be a neighbour?” As Pope Francis points out, the parable is advocating “neighbourliness without borders” (cf. the title before paragraph 80), a true fraternal spirit which is not seeking to satisfy its own interest but is searching for the common good.

In Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis is presenting a vision of how the world should be, a world of universal brotherhood, but he is not proposing to us that we should just wait for it to come, rather he is telling us to be active so that this fraternity and social friendship may be achieved. This is the purpose of chapter three “Envisaging and Engendering an Open World”.

 Allow me to be pedantic for a moment. This title uses two active participles, and the active participle, certainly in Arabic but I think also in other languages, denotes an incomplete action, which can be present but also future. Here we have “Envisaging”, because we have to have a clear idea of what we want; and “engendering”, because our actions produce effects, whether negative or positive. Both envisaging and engendering are needed. An artist may have a clear idea of the subject he or she wishes to portray, but if no paint is put on the canvas there will be no picture.

Pope Francis reminds us that growth depends on relationships. Our self-consciousness develops through encounter with others. This holds good for individual persons, and at every stage of their existence, from infancy to old age. It holds good for married couples and for families, for societies, including religious congregations and societies, and it holds good for the Church itself. The challenge is to move beyond oneself. The enemy of growth is self-centredness, which closes the horizon. I am reminded of something that I think Saint-Exupéry wrote: that true love is not when two people are gazing into each other’s eyes but when they are looking together in the same direction. 

Fratelli Tutti insists on love as the inspiration for all our actions, as the foundation of our relationships. Pope Francis asks us to examine whether our actions “foster openness and union with others” (91)? He goes on to say that love is “more than just a series of benevolent actions” (94). It implies a fundamental underlying attitude: the acceptance of others and, more than that, appreciation of their values, and so esteem for their persons. It includes benevolence, wishing the good of others – as you well know, in Italian ti voglio bene is a way of saying “I love you”. This makes possible a social friendship “that excludes no one and a fraternity that is open to all” (94). 

Such social friendship is not easy, because we are always tempted to set limits, to create defensive boundaries, whether of class or creed, of religion or race. Here Pope Francis uses a telling phrase which we can understand more readily as we struggle with the effects of COVID-19: “Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting” (97). 

Pope Francis goes on to speak about Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (people from France, pay attention). He says in effect that, in order to produce genuine fruit, Liberty and Equality need Fraternity. A “shallow understanding” of liberty, reduced to the freedom “to choose to whom or what we will belong” is far from “the richness of a liberty directed above all to love” (103). Equality is seen, not as an abstract proclamation that all are equal, but as “the result of the conscious and careful cultivation of fraternity” (104). In other words, true liberty and equality are incompatible with individualism, and here Pope Francis reuses forcefully the metaphor of the virus: “Radical individualism is a virus that is extremely difficult to eliminate” (105). 

The best medicine against individualism is a spirit of solidarity. This leads to service and care for the most vulnerable. In a previous paragraph Pope Francis had spoken about “hidden exiles”, people “treated as foreign bodies in society” (98). Amongst these he includes people with disabilities, and also the elderly. The importance that Francis gives to the elderly, not only in this encyclical but in his teaching generally, is really striking; perhaps I notice this more as I belong myself to this category of persons. Francis sees the elderly as witnesses of a past history which provides roots, and thus gives stability to society. If we wish to face up to the future with courage, it is good to know where we have come from.  I think we could apply this to our religious bodies, where the younger members can learn from their elders. It is good to know the history of how a charism has been formulated, then accepted and adapted to different circumstances.

I digress. Let me return to Fratelli Tutti. This letter reminds us that true solidarity does not consist merely in sporadic acts of generosity.

It means thinking and acting in terms of community…. It also means combatting the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labour rights. It means confronting the destructive effects of the empire of money” (116). 

Francis returns to this at the end of this chapter where he notes that, “if we accept the great principle that there are rights born of our inalienable human dignity, we rise to the challenge of envisaging a new humanity. We can aspire to a world that provides land, housing and work for all” (127). Here Francis is referring to the three ‘T’s in Spanish: tierra, trabajo, techo, which become the three ‘L’s in English: Land, Labour, Lodging. To give effect to this implies accompanying people, “not only by providing for their basic needs, but by enabling them to give the best of themselves, even though their performance may be less than optimum, their pace slow or their efficiency limited” (110).

We need to go further, realizing that concern for humanity as a whole implies caring for our common home, we should take to heart the teaching that the riches of the earth, the soil and the sea, have a common destination.  Here we would need to re-read Laudato Si’ and reflect on how the lessons it contains can be put into practice.

With regard to the application of the principle of the common destination of the earth’s goods, Pope Francis opens up a much wider perspective. A firm belief in this principle requires that it also be applied to nations, their territories and their resources. “This presupposes a different way of understanding relations and exchanges between countries” (120). Consequently, no one is a stranger, all people are brothers and sisters and are to be treated as such.

The scene thus broadens as, in chapter four, Pope Francis encourages us to have “A Heart Open to the Whole World”. It is one of the shortest sections of the letter, yet it touches on important points. There is the question of migration. “Ideally, unnecessary migration ought to be avoided.” Rendering it “unnecessary” would entail “creating in countries of origin the conditions needed for a dignified life and integral development.” But there is no denying reality; the phenomenon of migration is ever-present. Consequently there is the need for a response summed up by Pope Francis, here as elsewhere, in four words: “welcome, protect, promote, integrate” (129). 

Yet integration involves the further question of citizenship. This question had already been broached in the Document on Human Fraternity. There, as here, the concept of full citizenship was invoked (131), but this surely needs further explanation. Similarly with the idea of cultural exchanges, for example between East and West (136), again mentioned already in the Document on Human Fraternity; one might ask what exactly is meant by ‘the East’. Whatever may be the answer to that question, there is no denying the need “to communicate with each other, to discover the gifts of each person, to promote that which unites us, and to regard our differences as an opportunity to grow in mutual respect” (134). This is said of individuals, but it is valid also for nations: “mutual assistance between countries proves enriching for each… We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are all saved together or no one is saved” (137). Yet the spirit governing such communication and exchange should be one of ‘gratuitousness’, “the ability to do some things simply because they are good in themselves, without concern for personal gain or recompense” (139). 

Finally this chapter emphasizes the need to combine the global and the local: attention to the global dimension is a way of avoiding “narrowness and banality” and “petty provincialism”; involvement with the local scene helps us to keep “our feet on the ground”; local action is “capable of being a leaven” (142), another image for producing a future effect, to be added to that of the seed that is sown.

Some have criticized Pope Francis for writing a social encyclical which, they say, is far from the teaching of the Gospel. Yet if one reads Fratelli Tutti carefully one will see that there are many references to God and also that we are invited to look beyond the surface to the hidden side of reality. This is true when political activity is being considered. The Pope is not engaging in party politics, but rather stressing the need for A Better Kind of Politics (the title of chapter five). He is advocating political activity which is “truly at the service of the common good” (154) and which “makes room for everyone, including the most vulnerable” (155).

From this perspective we find in the encyclical a discussion on the notion of “people” which, says Pope Francis, has “a deeper meaning that cannot be set forth in purely logical terms” (158). This theme is also taken up in the book Let Us Dream. In the encyclical it is stated that “to be part of a people is to be part of a shared identity arising from social and cultural bonds” (158). So people means much more than just a group of persons. The Pope assures us that: 

A living and dynamic people, a people with a future, is one constantly open to a new synthesis through its ability to overcome differences (160).

The notion of “work” has also hidden depths. It is “not only a means of earning one’s daily bread but also of personal growth”. Consequently providing work for people, “to provide everyone with the opportunity to nurture the seeds that God has planted in each of us” (162), is in fact offering the possibility of shared responsibility, thus enhancing dignity.

There are other hidden realities including underlying human weakness, or “the proclivity of selfishness”, but this weakness can be overcome with the help of God. It is with this help that people can achieve the needed “change of heart, attitudes and lifestyles” (166). “Education and upbringing, concern for others, a well-integrated view of life and spiritual growth: all these [ which, I might add, are promoted here at the STS] are essential for quality human relationships and for enabling society itself to react against injustices, aberrations and abuses of economic, technological, political and media power” (167). This education is obviously to be offered to individuals, but it is also provided through movements and associations. Such movements and associations are sometimes treated with suspicion, because, as the encyclical notes, “they may be troublesome”, but it should be recognized that they are capable of being “sowers of change, promoters of a process involving millions of actions, great and small, creatively intertwined like words in a poem”; Francis calls them “social poets” (169).

In turning to the global scene, Fratelli Tutti points to weaknesses here too: 

“In the face of many petty forms of politics focused on immediate interests, I would repeat that ‘true statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good’ (178)

It goes on: 

Global society is suffering from grave structural deficiencies that cannot be resolved by piecemeal solutions or quick fixes. Much needs to change, through fundamental reform and major renewal (179). 

I would interject here that Pope Francis is well aware that it is not possible to have recourse to “quick fixes”. Right from the beginning of his pontificate he aimed to reform the Roman Curia, the services which help the Pope in governing the universal Church. After seven years of study and reflection the new statutes of the Curia are still to be published. Pope Francis has been encouraging a “fundamental reform” of the attitudes of the people working in the Curia. He is convinced that the style of work, of service, will flow from this change of attitude.

To return to the global perspective, one in which we are all involved, Pope Francis is calling for “political charity”. This may surprise us. People today seem to have lost confidence in politics, seeing it merely as a way that some persons press their own advantage or achieve their own personal prestige. Yet:

political charity is born of a social awareness that transcends every individualistic mindset: Social charity makes us love the common good, it makes us effectively seek the good of all people, considered not only as individuals or private persons, but also in the social dimension that unites them (182).

As priests and religious we are not normally engaged in politics, but we may well have to encourage and counsel people who are so engaged. In this respect the teaching of Pope Francis on “political charity” will be a source of enlightenment. 

Francis continues by saying that “‘social love’ makes it possible to advance towards a civilization of love, to which all of us can feel called. Charity, with its impulse to universality, is capable of building a new world” (183). Here he is building on the teaching of his predecessors, in particular Paul VI and John Paul II.  He draws also on the encyclical of Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, “Charity in Truth”, saying that the recognition of truth prevents charity from being merely subjective, from being confined to a narrow group of people, opens it up to the advancements of science so that the best means of progress may be chosen. This leads to the conclusion that “this charity, which is the spiritual heart of politics, is always a preferential love shown to those in greatest need; it undergirds everything we do on their behalf(187).This is not just abstract talk. The same paragraph goes on to say:  

only a gaze transformed by charity can enable the dignity of others to be recognized and, as a consequence, the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society. That gaze is at the heart of the authentic spirit of politics. It sees paths open up that are different from those of a soulless pragmatism. It makes us realize that “the scandal of poverty cannot be addressed by promoting strategies of containment that only tranquilize the poor and render them tame and inoffensive (187). 

Accordingly “to tend to those in need takes strength and tenderness, effort and generosity” (188); it requires “a spirit of openness to everyone” (190). 

This leads to a “culture of tolerance” (192), something which the Grand Imam of al-Azhar and Pope Francis had already mentioned in their joint Document on Human Fraternity. This is something that would need to be spelt out further. 

In Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis turns to politicians as persons. He explains that the tenderness he has been talking about is “love that draws near and becomes real…Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women” (194). He reminds politicians that they are called “to practise love in their daily interpersonal relationships” (193). 

If the results are not seen immediately, this is no reason for giving up. Pope Francis turns again to hidden reality: it is truly noble to place our hope in the hidden power of the seeds of goodness we sow” (195). We can ask ourselves whether we bear witness to this hidden reality: do we see and appreciate the signs of God’s presence in our midst?

This chapter of Fratelli Tutti ends with a series of questions which, even though they are put to politicians, we can all take up. They can serve us as a canvas for a serious examination of conscience:

At times, in thinking of the future, we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Why I am doing this?’, ‘What is my real aim?’ For as time goes on, reflecting on the past, the questions will not be: ‘How many people endorsed me?’, ‘How many voted for me?’, ‘How many had a positive image of me?’ The real, and potentially painful, questions will be, ‘How much love did I put into my work?’ ‘What did I do for the progress of our people?’ ‘What mark did I leave on the life of society?’ ‘What real bonds did I create?’ ‘What positive forces did I unleash?’ ‘How much social peace did I sow?’ ‘What good did I achieve in the position that was entrusted to me?’ “(197)

Pope Francis recognizes that the planter of seeds may have to wait a long time to see the fruit of his work; he is not looking for quick fixes, but is ready for the long haul. So, in chapter six of Fratelli Tutti, he discusses “Dialogue and Friendship in Society”. Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground: all these things are summed up in the one word ‘dialogue’ “ (198). This is how this chapter starts, descriptively, rather than with a definition of dialogue.

Dialogue can be very public, for instance in peace negotiations, but it can often be rather hidden. As Pope Francis says: “persistent and courageous dialogue does not make headlines” (198). The break-up of a marriage, leading to divorce, especially of celebrities, is “news”, but the patient dialogue that keeps a marriage going for many long years is not talked about. The same holds good for religious: if a prominent religious figure leaves religious life to get married, this will fill social media, whereas many years of faithful service may hardly get a mention.

Dialogue is out-going. It should be a characteristic of the “out-going Church” (la Chiesa in uscita) that Pope Francis is encouraging. He remarks that “some people attempt to flee from reality, taking refuge in their own little world; others react to it with destructive violence. Yet between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue” (199). 

He emphasizes that dialogue is a “readiness to give and receive, while remaining open to the truth.” This openness to the truth is capital. Jesus declared: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). But an individual person can never say: “I have the truth, the whole truth.” Pope Francis puts it this way: “No one can possess the whole truth or satisfy his or her every desire, since that pretension would lead to nullifying others by denying their rights” (221). 

Dialogue is not self-seeking; it is not an attempt “to seize every possible advantage” over the other, but rather cooperation “in the pursuit of the common good” (202). Francis asserts forcefully that “the heroes of the future will be those who can break with this unhealthy mindset [of seeking personal advantage rather than the common good] and determine respectfully to promote truthfulness, aside from personal interest” (202).

 We must be ready to accept the truth wherever it is to be found: “even people who can be considered questionable on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked” (217). At the same time we have to be ready to express ourselves, not hiding our reality out of fear of raising opposition: “Let us not forget that differences are creative, they create tension and in the resolution of tension lies humanity’s progress” (203). This supposes nevertheless “the ability to recognize other people’s rights to be themselves and to be different” (218).

All this calls for an attitude of kindness which means:

to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference. If we make a daily effort to do exactly this, we can create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled… Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges (224).

This takes us to Chapter Seven Paths of Renewed Encounter.  Here again Pope Francis insists on the importance of truth: “Truth, in fact, is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy. All three together are essential to building peace; each, moreover, prevents the other from being altered… Truth should not lead to revenge, but rather to reconciliation and forgiveness” (227).

It is often said that we should forgive and forget. Pope Francis teaches otherwise:  

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Or better, in the face of a reality that can in no way be denied, relativized or concealed, forgiveness is still possible. In the face of an action that can never be tolerated, justified or excused, we can still forgive. In the face of something that cannot be forgotten for any reason, we can still forgive. Free and heartfelt forgiveness is something noble, a reflection of God’s own infinite ability to forgive. If forgiveness is gratuitous, then it can be shown even to someone who resists repentance and is unable to beg pardon (250). 

 Earlier he had said very clearly that the Shoah should not be forgotten, nor should the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki be forgotten (cf. 247, 248). He continues with these strong words: “

Those who truly forgive do not forget. Instead, they choose not to yield to the same destructive force that caused them so much suffering. They break the vicious circle; they halt the advance of the forces of destruction. They choose not to spread in society the spirit of revenge that will sooner or later return to take its toll. Revenge never truly satisfies victims. Some crimes are so horrendous and cruel that the punishment of those who perpetrated them does not serve to repair the harm done. Even killing the criminal would not be enough, nor could any form of torture prove commensurate with the sufferings inflicted on the victim. Revenge resolves nothing (251). 

This conviction, as has been widely noted, leads Pope Francis to dismiss the notion of a “just war” as also the justification of the death penalty.

The final chapter of Fratelli Tutti is dedicated to Religions at the service of Fraternity in our World. This chapter should be recommended to all who are studying for the diploma in interreligious dialogue. I find it interesting that a reference is made here to the teaching of the Bishops of India who have stated that:

The goal of dialogue is to establish friendship, peace and harmony, and to share spiritual and moral values and experiences in a spirit of truth and love (271).

In a similar vein, Pope Francis appeals for the voice of religions to be heard, not only that of Christianity, but of all religions: 

From our faith experience and from the wisdom accumulated over centuries, but also from lessons learned from our many weaknesses and failures, we, the believers of the different religions, know that our witness to God benefits our societies. The effort to seek God with a sincere heart, provided it is never sullied by ideological or self-serving aims, helps us recognize one another as travelling companions, truly brothers and sisters (274). 

He returns to the document on Human Fraternity which he had signed together with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi on 4 February 2019: 

In my fraternal meeting, which I gladly recall, with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, we resolutely [declared] that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women… God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want his name to be used to terrorize people (285).

Pope Francis had already referred to this document when insisting that religions have a voice which should be heard:

Among the most important causes of the crises of the modern world are a desensitized human conscience, a distancing from religious values and the prevailing individualism accompanied by materialistic philosophies that deify the human person and introduce worldly and material values in place of supreme and transcendental principles (275).

He then added:

Room needs to be made for reflections born of religious traditions that are the repository of centuries of experience and wisdom (275).

This is then applied to the Church of which it is said:

The Church, while respecting the autonomy of political life, does not restrict her mission to the private sphere… She does not claim to compete with earthly powers, but to offer herself as “a family among families”, this is the Church, open to bearing witness in today’s world, open to faith hope and love for the Lord and for those whom he loves with a preferential love (276).

And again:

In the power of the risen Lord, she [the Church] wants to give birth to a new world, where all of us are brothers and sisters, where there is room for all those whom our societies discard, where justice and peace are resplendent (278).

This is a wake-up call indeed, addressed to all of us. Let us pray that we may heed this call and have the courage to act upon it, becoming truly sowers of the seeds of hope, confident that the fruit will come: Fructum Dabit.

+ Michael Cardinal Fitzgerald, M.Afr.

                                                         (Liverpool/Jerusalem, 1 February 2021)