The Rev. Fr. Bernard O'Connor is currently Scholar In Residence at the Foundation. He is Fellow and John Henry Cardinal Newman Professor of Theology and Ecclesial Mediation and for many years worked in the Vatican serving the Congregation of Eastern Churches. Read his faculty profile for a complete biography.
This month, you are at the Foundation in Mishawaka as our first "Scholar In Residence." Can you describe the work you are doing in this role?
The concept of a Scholar in Residence for the Foundation arose during a conversation with Dr. John Morgan when we met at the 2012 Commencement. I had indicated that there is a period between semesters at Indiana University Kokomo when I would be available for an academic experience beyond my customary role at IUK. And since I have been associated with the Foundation since 1996, it was reasonable to propose a brief 'residency' (three weeks) at GTF. This would enable me to (a) gain a better understanding of the Foundation's administrative structure and to be able to offer suggestions and observations from my perspective of the IU model. I am pleased to note that the Foundation operates on very solid ground, so to speak. GTF's personnel are thoroughly dedicated and profoundly committed to wanting their service to be student-focused and geared to raising the level of the academic integrity of professional ministry. I am more convinced than ever that GTF fulfills a unique need and does so admirably!
(b) GTF has also requested that I examine the Foundation's web site so as to assess its effectiveness. Again, this is another instance of the Foundation personnel's willingness to improve its communications and to strive to offer a venue to provide information which is easily accessible and comprehensive. My conclusion is that the site is very well designed and accurate in the data which it conveys.
(c) On July 23, two students will defend their doctoral dissertations. Part of my Residential Scholar role is to participate in the panel which will conduct this procedure and so permit me to provide comment relevant to candidates' research scholarship and their potential for subsequent publication.
(d) While at IUK I am continually challenged by preparation for courses (in Law and Political Science), committee obligations and time spent in the advising of students. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to schedule opportunity for my own research and reflection. The Scholar in Residence initiative allows for that possibility. While at GTF, I have prepared an article for the German journal, Kirche Heute, on the conflict management style of the Ratzinger papacy. And I have also prepared a study on the Spirituality of Science for publication in the Journal of St. Thomas Christians, a journal published by the Carmelites of the University of Bangalore, India. Additionally, I have done preliminary planning for the Foundation's Runcie Lecture 2013. And I have completed an online program with the Pardes Institute, Jerusalem, on Rodef Shalom, peacemaking according to Judaism.
(e) Yet another facet of the Residency pertains to my forthcoming book on the Papal Diplomacy of Pope Benedict. The contents are currently being planned and organized.
Congratulations on your recent signing of a book contract for your second book! What is the book about and why did you want to write it?
The proposed book, tentatively to be titled, Awakened Awareness: The Diplomacy of Benedict XVI, is a sequel to my previous book dealing with the diplomatic approach of Pope John Paul II. The time seems opportune to examine the impact of Pope Benedict's contribution to international political affairs and his reliance upon the diplomatic 'system' to further his efforts on behalf of the defense of human rights and dignity.
One of your areas of expertise is ecclesial mediation. How and where do you see this practiced in the world today? Is it growing or diminishing in importance?
While at Eastern Michigan University (1994-2004), I developed a format to adapt the Community Mediation Model to the context of faith-based communities. The Dispute Resolution Center of Ann Arbor offered its assistance and facilities. And, in partnership with a Mennonite pastor, my method was applied to two Lutheran congregations (ELCA). When I was assigned to the Vatican Curia (2004-2010), I was invited to teach that 'format' to graduate students at Rome's Oriental Institute and at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum). Essentially, the premise is that when peace is restored on the local, congregational level, then the broader Church as well as the surrounding secular society will inevitably benefit. Peace becomes 'contagious' and the success of peacemaking efforts becomes highly 'attractive' to onlookers and to those struggling with their own institutional conflicts.
Religion is increasingly a source for both the generation of conflict as well as for its management. I believe that when the smaller congregation is positively transformed and healed, its 'light' radiates well beyond its immediate setting. The negative dimension of 'religious differences' diminish and convergences assume an ever greater importance and influence.
You also have specialized knowledge in the area of papal diplomacy, and have had the opportunity to know and work with both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. What is your perspective on how papal diplomacy is being, or might be, used in the area of interreligious dialogue?
When one carefully considers the diplomatic discourse of Pope Benedict, for example, his annual speeches to the Diplomatic Corps or his messages when the credentials of newly appointed ambassadors are presented, we become aware of his belief that diplomacy is a viable mechanism to activate change and to further progress within the international community. The Pope's diplomatic discourse consistently emphasizes: (a) the necessity of promoting peaceful co-existence and tolerance; (b) the importance of rejecting all forms of violence perpetrated in the name of God; (c) the urgency of recognizing religious freedom and freedom of conscience; (d) the obligation of diplomats to defend minorities, especially religious minorities; (e) the value of encouraging programs aimed at the healing of shared memories (e.g. Truth Commissions); (f) the desirability of formalizing efforts at collective reconciliation; (g) the usefulness of diplomacy to reduce damaging social stereotypes, and thus, to weaken the ground upon which prejudice arises; (h) the importance of intellectual integrity (e.g. the clarification of the relationship between faith and reason as illustrated in the Regensburg Lecture of September 12, 2006); (i) that a view of the common good of humanity should be preferred over the narrowness of national or regional diplomatic interests, and (j) that the reality of the spiritual should never be banished from secular, social concerns.
I have outlined ten aspects of Papal diplomacy. Each and all are crucial to interreligious dialogue, for they belong to the core of what enables dialogue to proceed and to succeed!
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