Inside USD

Mannion: Assisi Event Advances Dialogue

Friday, April 27, 2012

Religion is steeped in traditional thought, beliefs and actions. University of San Diego’s Gerard Mannion, a Theology and Religious Studies professor and director of the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, respects these traits tremendously, but he also understands the importance of adjustment when a shift is necessary.

“At a time when dialogue within and between churches and faiths, and between faith communities and the wider world in which they live out their faith has been described as being in a state of impasse and decline for some time, sources of hope and transformation of such status quo are much needed,” Mannion said.

“We cannot overlook that the world has changed in dramatic ways. Cultural, intellectual and social trends and developments impact ecumenical and ecclesial life as much as they do any other area of human existence. We need to discern the implications of the obvious fact that the world in the 21st century is very different than what it was in previous times.”

It’s this recognition that brought Mannion (pictured, left), USD faculty colleagues and Paul Arthur, a former Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies Resident Peace Scholar, and more than 250 people from 55 different countries, churches and faith communities and scholars to Assisi, Italy, April 17-20 to promote fresh and encouraging discussion. The event was called Assisi 2012: Where We Dwell in Common.

“The overall aim of the gathering was to discern new ways, means and methods of advancing the dialogue cause with renewed energy for a new century,” Mannion said. “It sought to identify, share and shape, put into practice productive pathways for dialogue for these times.”

The event was organized by the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network (EIIRN) — Mannion serves as the EIIRN chair as well as chairperson of the event’s organizing committee — and themes such as openness, charity, dialogue, harmony, peace, community and shared endeavors, were expressed within several holy sites of Assisi, a place rich with symbolism to inspire dialogue among people.

Arthur, a veteran of conflict resolution initiatives, shared lessons from peace processes to help ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue may learn; there was a reflection on the “10 commandments” of Franciscan contributions to shape dialogue and ecumenical prayer; and a talk about the inspirational “relational spirituality” legacy of Saint Claire in the Basilica of Santa Chiara. These were just a few of the many topics for discussion.

Participants examined ongoing causes of division, explored sources and features of commonality and were encouraged to think “outside the box.” Each day, groups were broken up into three thematic focuses — intra- and inter-church issues, exploring inter-faith issues and looking at issues pertaining to relations between faith communities and the wider world. While forward-thinking ideas were encouraged, Mannion added that it did not mean there was a rejection of the past. Instead, it encouraged innovation, but also to learn from the best of the past.

“We sought to revisit, learn from, renew and adapt some of the methodologies employed to great effect in past dialogical conversations,” he said.

Among those on hand to listen, soak up the experience and ask questions were “emerging scholars,” a group that Mannion said was vital to the discussion last week.

“They are the people who will have to deliver in the long term on ensuring the pathways for dialogue for this century become fruitful ones that are free of obstacles.”

To learn more about the Assisi event, which included USD support from the Office of the Provost and Chief Executive, the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science and the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, click here.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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