Interreligious Agreement Signed

By Julie Bourbon

The Jesuit Conference has finalized an agreement with Georgetown University concerning interreligious activities in the United States. The agreement is linked to Georgetown’s appointment of Dr. John Borelli to the newly-created position of special assistant to the president for interreligious initiatives. As part of his duties at the university, Borelli will serve as the Jesuit Conference coordinator of interreligious dialogue. He started in the position at Georgetown in early 2004.

“It’s clearly one of the priorities of the Society,” said Fr. David Haschka, national secretary for pastoral ministries at the Jesuit Conference. With the formalization of the new relationship, Borelli and his office will be in a position to “act as a resource for Jesuits interested in interreligious dialogue.”

The agreement, signed in March, commits the Conference and Georgetown to sharing resources and personnel in pursuit of the promotion of interreligious understanding, including through workshops, institutes and lectures, as well as the upkeep of the Jesuit dialogue website (maintained on Creighton University’s website).

Fr. Frank Clooney (NYK), a professor of comparative theology at Boston College, was the coordinator for interreligious dialogue for the U.S. Assistancy from 1998-2004, which included organizing the interreligious dialogue column in the National Jesuit News. In July he takes on a new assignment as the Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology at the Harvard Divinity School.

Borelli, 58, comes to the job with a long Jesuit history. A graduate of Saint Louis University, he received his masters and PhD in history of religions and theology from Fordham University, where he also taught theology for one year. He has been active in the church as a layman for more than 40 years and is a Eucharistic minister and marriage preparation assistant, along with his wife Marianne, at Holy Trinity Parish in Washington, D.C.

In addition to his work with interreligious initiatives, Borelli is also a member of the Working Group for Catholic and Jesuit Identity, a co-convener of the Woodstock Theological Center Interfaith Dialogue on Education and a faculty member in Catholic Studies. He is also a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious dialogue, serving his third five-year term. Immediately prior to coming to the university, he was for eight years the associate director for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was at the USCCB for 16 years in total, staffing ecumenical and interreligious relations, especially dialogues with Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

Interviewed shortly after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, Borelli spoke quietly about unity and dialogue (and the return of baseball to the nation’s capital – he and his son had tickets for the next day’s game). Scattered on shelves and his desktop were several photographs of Borelli meeting John Paul II, as well as photos of the Assisi interfaith gatherings of 1986 and 2002, at which the late pontiff met with religious leaders of many faiths to pray for world peace.

“After this long papacy, ecumenical and interreligious affairs are part of how we as Catholics interact with the world,” Borelli said. He had spent the morning reading wire service stories about the new Pope and his pledge, in his first homily during Mass with the elector cardinals, to implement the Second Vatican Council and to “build an open and sincere dialogue.”

“This work has to be done collegially,” said Borelli, and he believes that being at Georgetown puts him in a unique position to facilitate that. “It’s a very concrete commitment of the Society.”

Borelli will assemble an advisory board made up of representatives from all 10 of the U.S. provinces. He was present last November when 13 administrators and faculty from six Jesuit universities – Creighton, Georgetown, Loyola Chicago, Loyola Marymount, University of San Francisco and Boston College – met in Boston as part of the project “Interreligious Understanding on Campus: Jesuit Institutions of Higher Education in an Age of Religious Diversity.” They will meet again this fall, at Creighton, to continue the conversation about religious diversity in the context of institutions of higher learning.

In a recent column in National Jesuit News (December 2004/January 2005), Borelli wrote that “The 34th General Congregation recognized in 1995 that interreligious dialogues is essential to Christian witness.” He went on to say that “Dialogue, cooperation, friendship and growing communion are shared elements in ecumenical and interreligious friendships.”

Before he began the position at Georgetown, Borelli made the Spiritual Exercises for the first time, in January 2004 at Wernersville. “Since this is the third Jesuit university I’ve been associated with,” he said, grinning, “it’s about time I did the Exercises.”

Fifty-seven at the time, he noted that, as with many things in life, timing was everything. “To me, they came at the right point in my life,” he said. “I gained a heck of a lot, but it had to do with the last 40 years of my life.”

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