Report on U.S. Assistancy Dialogue Board Meeting

May 18-20, 2001

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.

Professor of Comparative Theology, Boston College

Coordinator for Interreligious Dialogue in Jesuit-Related Ministries,

United States Assistancy of the Society of Jesus

Address: Jesuit Community, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3802;


I A Second National Meeting

On May 18-20, 2001, the Advisory Committee for Interreligious Dialogue in Jesuit-related ministries in the United States met at the Loyola High School Jesuit community in Montreal, on the edge of the Concordia University campus. (The Upper Canadian Province is an informal and friendly partner in this assistancy dialogue project, and generously hosted this meeting in Montreal.) Fifteen of us came together: Jesuits and lay men and women, including college and seminary professors of theology and religions, high school religion chairs, campus ministers, and even a Zen teacher. (See Appendix #1.)

In February, 2000, the original board, exclusively Jesuit, had met for a historic first meeting at St. Louis University, to preview the issues related to dialogue in the United States. At this second meeting the broader committee extended our reflection and practical agenda regarding possible practical initiatives in the United States. (On the February 2000 meeting, see report at our website:

II Background to the Meeting

The entire initiative under discussion in Montreal in May, 2001 — interreligious dialogue in Jesuit-related ministries in the United States — is very much attuned to the cultural and religious climate in the places where we live and work; these specific contexts challenge religions, including our own, in distinctive ways that raise question different from those faced on other continents. When we gathered we were also already aware of these challenges. The cities in which we live and work are increasingly pluralistic in cultural and religious terms, and even within the Church and Society, we are all touched by the facts of the pluralism which occurs around us. Islam is growing quickly in the United States, and Judaism remains vibrant in its several traditions. We have increasingly diverse religious and social conditions due to immigration, and conversions to Asian religions and to new religious movements which adapt and borrow from multiple traditions. Many Catholics too are experimenting with borrowing from other religions, and many live in complex religious worlds wherein elements from different traditions stand side by side. All of this is enhanced, of course, in the context of American attitudes toward autonomy, the preference for the ‘spiritual’ over the ‘religious,’ etc. (See Joel Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World’s Religions: An Interfaith Guide to Religion and Spirituality (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2000 [3rd edition]); Diana Eck, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (Harper, 2001). For more background on the initiatives that led up to the Montreal meeting, see Appendix #2.

III Montreal: a Multi-Level Moment of Reflection - on and in Dialogue

The meeting itself was a blend of the personal sharing and issue-oriented reflection. (See agenda, Appendix #3) We first took turns talking about our own experience — personal, and in the ministries in which we have engaged over the years, be it in a university or high school or in teaching meditation or working with Native Americans in the Dakotas, etc. This extended sharing, which took most of Saturday, was the central part of our meeting, since our lives, complex as they are, already include numerous interreligious experiences and suggest mature and sensible  (even if revisable ) ways of shaping and articulating religious identity in our society today. This sharing was personal, entertaining,  specific, and difficult to summarize, but several characteristics stand out: personal journeys in clarifying and (re)forming religious identity; multiple experiences with other religions — the people, books, practices, virtues and vices; evolving attitudes toward our own religious traditions; for most of us, an accidental discovery of the importance of dialogue as an emerging aspect of some other ministry which we chose intentionally; the conviction that dialogue is an essential and positive aspect of our ministries.

We enriched our time together by integrating into it a series of prayer experiences, led by members of our group. We attempted to find a good middle ground between respect for traditions to which we do not belong, fidelity to our own traditions, and the achievement of prayer moments more substantive than generic prayer services. Accordingly, members of our group led us in prayer according to the Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim traditions, and all were free to observe or participate as they wished. Early each morning most of us shared a brief period of Zen meditation, and on Saturday evening we all joined in a Roman Catholic Eucharist. On the last morning, we offered thanksgiving and expressed our needs in a manner familiar to Catholics in the Lakota Native American tradition.

In the course of our other conversations, and more pointedly later in the meeting, we reviewed some initiatives already under way, though in early stages:

•a survey of how religions are being taught in Jesuit high schools;

•dialogue, diversity, and care for all our students on college and university campuses, and how this affects the goals of campus ministry;

•the scholarly study of religions as contributing to our understanding of dialogue;

•dialogue in relation to social and pastoral ministries;

•sharing pastoral experience in advising and aiding couples in interreligious marriages;

•retrieving the charism of the early Jesuit encounters with different cultures and religions.

None of these projects is well developed and all require patient (and largely volunteer) labor by interested Jesuits and colleagues around the country. Yet we felt that such projects are well worth the work involved.

IV Planning Ahead

Where do we go from here?

On one level, we have a rich and demanding agenda, as was explained in the preceding section. We began the process, not yet fully finished, of establishing working subcommittees, comprised of current board members but also of others who might be persuaded to join in the work, in order to move forward on the various projects. (See Appendix #4, the list of proposed projects and subcommittees.)

It is my expectation that during 2001-2002 these subcommittees will become the real working groups and that they will meet as necessary; the entire board will meet again only in 2003 and probably not before. At the same time, and provided planning and funding turn out to be adequate, we are of course not against the idea of more ambitious projects on the national level which would facilitate dialogue in more public and high profile ways.

Yet this particular set of initiatives signals a much larger and longer term process which must grow by small and sure steps taken in innumerable local contexts. A national advisory committee is, after all, at its best a catalyst for work that occurs locally, and perhaps thereafter a reflector and publicist for what is going on locally. Thus, we are concerned less with new initiatives than with noticing and drawing attention to local responses to religious pluralism that are already flourishing, in areas as diverse as parish and college and prison ministries. A primary part of our work will for a long time continue to be making known what is going on in various places, so that the various local experiences can be more widely disseminated and shared.

V A Subsequent Meeting in Rome

A timely and related follow-up event was a global planning meeting of Jesuits involved in interreligious dialogue, which was held at the Jesuit Curia in Rome on June 13-14, and which I attended. Here first is an excerpt from the statement issued by the Jesuit Press and Information Office in Rome:

“The last General Congregation (1995) stated that interreligious dialogue is an integral element of Jesuit mission and recommended to Fr General to explore the feasibility of setting up a Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue. Within a short time, Fr General carried out the recommendation and established at the Curia a Secretariat to which he appointed Fr Thomas Michel.

“Six years after its opening the Secretariat called the Coordinators from all the Assistancies to gather in Rome to examine the situation of interreligious dialogue in the Society. The reports from the Coordinators make clear the great diversity of the Society's response to the call of the General Congregation. In Asia, the interreligious dialogue is an inescapable alternative even if limited by the refusal of some religions to enter into it, and by the reserve of some Christian groups. In Africa, there is an ongoing need for inculturation of the Christian message, which requires a dialogue with native religions. The dialogue is supported by Christians who see their cultural roots strengthened by it. Immigration in European countries goes in hand with the dynamic presence of Islam. The oriental spirituality of Buddhism, vague and exotic, continues to appeal to some Europeans. Immigration is an important element in the social changes experienced by the United States. Jesuit schools, for instance, are confronted with a so-far-unexperienced religious diversity among their students. In Latin America the sects and native cultures are the main actors in the interreligious dialogue. The richness of the June 13-14 meeting is expected to help in defining more clearly the concept of interreligious dialogue, and in the preparation of young Jesuits to work in this field.”

As a participant in the Rome meeting, I appreciated the expected and important continuities which link Jesuit concerns related to dialogue around the world; but I also recognized how differently the situation of dialogue, and response to it, is working out thus far in the various parts of the world, given the numerous historical, social, cultural, and religious differences. Several distinctive features of the situation in the United States were evident, including these: a. the unique way in which the United States is deeply Christian by tradition and majority belief, and yet too one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world; b. the American tendency to distinguish religion from spirituality and to view the latter as more imortant and as a matter of private experience and choice; c. the richness of the intentional and fundamental cooperation of Jesuits and lay colleagues, Catholic and also belonging to other faith traditions, right from the start of our United States dialogue project; d. the great potential of our complex national network of educational institutions.

VI A Final Note to the Reader

The preceding paragraphs, the appendices that follow, and the information found at the Dialogue Website (, are intended first of all to make available in the public forum the slow but real progress of the dialogue initiative in Jesuit-related ministries in the United States. We appreciate very much your taking the time to read the materials.

But a second and absolute essential purpose of this communication is to elicit your own further reflections and your involvement. The initiative is only at its earliest stages, and we welcome your observations, theoretical and practical suggestions, and criticisms. If you have ideas or would like to become involved with one of the subcommittees, please direct them to me by letter or email, or if you prefer, to any of the board members listed in Appendix #1.

Appendix #1

Mission and Interreligious Dialogue, United States Assistancy: participants at May Board Meeting

Sharon G. Bilodeau ( is Chair of Religious Education at Boston College High School, where she has been a teacher of Religious Education for the last 16 years. At BC High she is active in various programs and events which promote diversity and justice, and is the moderator of B.C. High's Amnesty International Campus Group, which brings the high school community into contact with the needs and situations of diverse individuals around the globe.

James Bretzke, S.J., S.T.D., ( is a member of the Wisconsin Province and Associate Professor of Moral Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology-at-Berkeley (JSTB) as well as a member of the Core Doctoral Faculty of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU). Fr. Bretzke, an expert in Cross-cultural Ethics as well as other areas of Christian Ethics, previously taught in Korea and in Rome.

Raymond Bucko, S.J. , ( is an associate professor of anthropology in the department of sociology and anthropology at Creighton University. He works extensively with Native peoples, especially on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation and is particularly interested in interreligious dialogue as well as ecumenical dialogue. Fr. Bucko teaches a course in the anthropology of religion and is developing a course on the history of Christian missions among Indian peoples. He is also the supervising webmaster for the Jesuit Interreligious Dialogue web site.

Philip Chmielewski, S.J. , ( is Professor of Religious Social Ethics at Loyola University, Chicago. His research interests include: the shape of interreligious dialog with non-literate religious traditions with a focus on Native American groups of the U.S. Southwest, conversation with the adherents of Islam concerning the mutual, historical influence in the area of spirituality, and the rights of minority groups, in particular of groups contoured through religious traditions.

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., ( is Professor of Comparative Theology at Boston College. He studies the Hindu religious traditions and their implications for Christian theology. Most recently he is the author, with Anand Amaladass, S.J., of Preaching Wisdom to the Wise (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2000), a collection of the writings of Roberto de Nobili, S.J. He is the United States Assistancy Coordinator for Mission and Interreligious Dialogue and Chair of this Board.

Joseph Costantino, S.J., ( is the current director of St. Ignatius Retreat House and has been asked to serve on the Sophia Center's Board. Prior to that he was vocation director for the New York and Maryland Provinces. Interest in this dialogue stems from trying to do things on Long Island to incarnate General Congregation 34's decree about this. The Retreat House has sponsored a number of Zen retreats and now has a Zendo. It has hosted Buddhists along with other non-Christian groups. (Unable to attend meeting.)

Leonard Greenspoon ( holds the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton University. Each year he sponsors a fall symposium on a different topic of interest both to academicians and to the general public. Members of both the Jewish and the Creighton communities are included, and the speakers address important topics in terms accessible to the general public. Also sponsored are conferences, lectures, and activities aimed at promoting positive interfaith activities between and among Jews and Christians (especially, Catholics). (Unable to attend meeting.)

J.P. Horrigan, S.J., ( is the Jesuit Director of the Canadian Jesuits International. (CJI). In keeping with the mandate of Pope John Paul, the Canadian Jesuits make the promotion of Interreligious Dialogue one of its major priorities. They try to implement the "service of our faith with a major emphasis on promotion of justice". Fr. Horrigan joined the Jesuits in 1957. Four years later his Superiors assigned him to India. From 1961 till 1976 his mission was Darjeeling Province in south Asia. Part of Fr. Horrigan's experience as a Jesuit was to work in the Himalayas. His students, parishioners, and colleagues were Animist, Christian, Hindu, Moslem, and Sikh.

Ignatius F. Ohno, S.J., (, or "Natch," is Executive Assistant to the Provincial, Treasurer, and Oregon Province liaison for Jesuit International Ministries, which includes Jesuit Commission for Social and International Ministries (JCSIM) for the Jesuit Conference. Natch is also on the board for JVC:NW. His interest in interreligious dialogue stems from his involvement during Tertianship with Muslims in the Philippines, and inculturation studies with Shinto, Buddhists, and Christians in Japan. (Unable to attend meeting.)

Tracy Pintchman ( is Associate Professor of Hindu Studies and Religious Studies. Her research interests are Hindu goddesses and women's religious practices. Publications include one monograph (The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition) and one edited volume (Seeking Mahadevi: in press), both with SUNY Press. She is currently working on a book on Hindu women's devotional rituals centered on worship of Krishna. Specific interests in dialogue: Concerned about a sense of mutual suspicion between the fields of Theology and Religious Studies. Personal interest is in promoting an environment in which we welcome not only the study of diverse religious traditions, but also the application of diverse methodologies to the study of religion.

James D. Redington, S.J. , ( is Senior Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University, specializing in interreligious dialogue and inculturation. He has taught a course for the past twenty years, either in Hindu-Christian Dialogue or in Interreligious Dialogue more generally. Fr. Redington's original specialty (besides Christianity) is Hinduism, with some knowledge of Buddhism, Islam, and African Religions. He has spent six years each living in India and Africa.

John A. Saliba, S.J., ( is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy. He teaches courses on world religions and interfaith dialogue. In Detroit Fr. Saliba appears frequently in the news media commenting on new religious movements in general and on current issues relating to individual movements (like the Branch Davidian group in Waco, Texas, the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland, Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan, and Heaven's Gate in California). He has been involved in dialogue sessions with members of new religious movements, particularly those of the Hare Krishna Movement (ISKCON).

Carl Starkloff, S.J., ( is Professor Emeritus from Regis College, Toronto and an Associate Director of the Institute of Jesuit Sources in St. Louis. Fr. Starkloff continues his research in the areas of syncretism, cultural anthropology, and the implications of cultural studies for Christian theology. In the fall of 2001 he will teach a course on Native American Religions at Saint Louis University.

Tracy Tiemeier ( is the Assistant to the Coordinator for Mission and Interreligious Dialogue and a doctoral student in Systematic Theology at Boston College. Her primary research interest is Comparative Theological Anthropology, bringing into dialogue Christian and Hindu ways of articulating the human person in relation to ultimate reality. Personal goals for interreligious dialogue are collaboration, mutual enrichment, understanding, and the dialogical movement toward truth.

 We also had some expert visitors to complement the expertise of board members, several of whom will now be joining the Board:

Ms. Peggy Crawford, Chair of Religious Studies, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, Indianapolis;

Prof. Qamar-ul Huda, Professor of Islamic Studies at Boston College;

Rev. Alexei Michalenko, Campus Minister at Georgetown Law School;

Myokyo Judith McLean, Zen teacher and campus minister at Concordia University.


Appendix #2:

Additional Background to Montreal Meeting

The origins of the meeting lay in Decree Five of the (1995) 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, which had made interreligious dialogue a priority for the Society throughout the world. According to the Congregation, Jesuits today, “in light of the increasing contact and cooperation among people of different faith traditions, ‘realize that God, who wants all people to be saved, leads believers of all religions to the harmony of the Reign of God in ways known only to him...’” Agreeing with Pope John Paul II, the Congregation affirmed that “by dialogue we let God be present in our midst, for as we open ourselves to one another, we open ourselves to God,” “dialogue is a new way of being Church” and, by extension, a new way of being Jesuits and colleagues of Jesuits working for faith and justice in today’s world. Although this emphasis is a genuinely new development, the Congregation was also tapping into the long Jesuit tradition of interreligious encounter — sensitivity to differences in cultures, theories of culture, religion, etc., responding in a differentiated manner to cultures, discerning good and bad, language-learning, reasoning and argument, identifying ignorance as the primary human problem, and education the solution. (One of our board members is looking into the possibility of a project for studying the Jesuit missionary tradition, to see where the charism of those pioneers might be with regard to dialogue; I am currently writing an essay, possibly for Studies in Jesuit Spirituality, on what we learn from the early Jesuits in this regard.)

In response to the Congregation, in 1998 the provincials of the United States asked me to coordinate our work in the area of dialogue in the United States. Over the past two years (and while otherwise already fully employed) I have begun the daunting task of assessing attitudes toward dialogue in the United States among Jesuits and those who work with Jesuits, and have attempted to identify initiatives already under way in this regard, particularly on the local level and in the context of established Jesuit ministries. In 2000 I met in St. Louis for the first time with a smaller advisory committee, and now with the larger committee in Montreal. Our goal in both cases, and particularly in the more recent meeting, was to review and reflect on the meaning of dialogue as an ideal, but also in many ways real dimension of every Jesuit-related project in the United States today.

As coordinator for dialogue, I have also had occasion to do some work with young Jesuits in formation (novitiate, theology, tertianship), and to engage in conversation with other national planning bodies, such as the Jesuit Conference’s Committee on Social and International Ministries; I was happy too to collaborate on an October 2000 issue of In All Things on the interconnections between social justice and interreligious dialogue, and to write an essay on religious pluralism on Jesuit campuses for Conversations in Jesuit Higher Education (Fall, 1999).

Those of us involved in interreligious dialogue and cooperation are of course not beginning work or working in a vacuum. Leaving aside in this context the many initiatives in the wider Christian community, we can note that the Catholic Church possesses a rich and varied tradition of interreligious encounters and conversations (and arguments), much of it positive, and in many ways is already well prepared to respond positively to religious diversity. The early Christian communities grew up in situations of diversity, and the great expansion of the church in the colonial period created innumerable moments of encounter with new religions and cultures; while some of these encounters were deeply marred by misunderstanding and violence, the Church did begin to think of itself as a more than European entity. Today, and largely legitimate concerns about relativism and its current tendency to theological centralization notwithstanding, the Church has for the most part found fruitful ways to root itself locally in multiple cultures and to come to terms with differing languages and cultures. While not without problems, the Church’s complex balance of the centralized and the local allows for balance between coherence and adaptation. The Catholic philosophical tradition affirms the basic goodness of the created world, and enables Catholics to affirm whatever is met, as in principle at least, from God. This is a tradition of learning and intelligent encounter.

An essential part of the Church’s reflection on dialogue comes to the fore in the area of the theology of religions as articulated particularly in light of the Catholic theological tradition and post-Vatican II Church teachings. At our meeting in Montreal, we did not have time for extensive theological discussion, but we discussed the recent Vatican documents which include affirmations and cautions on dialogue, e.g., Dominus Iesus, Novo Millennio Ineunte, etc. Our primary concern was actually to improve our way of reading such documents since, in their own way they are just as complex and nuanced as the religious pluralism about which they speak. Just as we appreciate the complexity of dialogue, we must also read with subtlety and sensitivity the relevant Vatican pronouncements.

Of course too, neither the impetus toward dialogue nor the resources for it are exclusively Christian. Other religious traditions offer resources in their worldviews, conceptualizations of personhood, gender, etc., modes of spiritual practice, histories of interreligious contact, ways of handling differences, senses of how the sacred intersects the profane, modes of globalization, which do not merely echo or repeat what Christians have held forth as our views. Nor can dialogue be entirely a discussion among Christians about what we learn from non-Christians. It must be a deeply dialogical conversation that remains incomplete except in conversation across religious and communal boundaries.

In considering the Jesuit, Catholic, and wider religious contexts of dialogue, we must finally take note of differences and histories that deeply affect our consideration. Religions change over time; they have specific histories of interrelations with other religions; religions are rarely neutral or unaffected toward one another. Consider, for instance, the interconnection of colonialism and Christianity, and the very troubled history of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. We do not begin dialogue in a vacuum, and cannot assume that all potential dialogue partners think of the options for dialogue in the same way.


Appendix #3:

Agenda, Montreal, May 18-20, 2001

Friday evening

Meeting begins soon after dinner

Prayer/worship in a Jewish tradition (Tracy Pintchman)

Brief introductions

Director's report

Saturday morning

early morning Buddhist meditation for those interested (Myokyo Judith McLean)

9 AM Prayer/worship in a Hindu tradition (Tracy Pintchman)

Full introductions — including reflections by board members and guests, in light of each person's background and work, and in reaction to the various suggested readings

At the end of the morning session: plotting the afternoon.

Lunch, rest

Saturday afternoon

c. 1:30-4:45

Prayer/worship in a Muslim tradition (Qamar-ul Huda)

The afternoon time was structured according to decisions made at the end of the morning session; time frame adjustable. Presentations included: teaching religions in Jesuit high schools; the Jesuit charism for dialogue (retrieving Jesuit history); possible programs at the Woodstock Center in Washington, DC; the academic study of religions as a resource for dialogue

(after the afternoon session) Roman Catholic Eucharist (Jim Redington, S.J.)

Dinner at a local restaurant

Sunday morning

early morning Buddhist meditation for those interested (Myokyo)

Prayer/worship (Christian, reflecting sensitivity to the Native American traditions; Ray Bucko, S.J.)

First session

9-10:15: Mission, dialogue, and interreligious encounter in light of the official teachings of the Catholic Church. (Jim Bretzke, S.J.)

Second session


Review of the meeting, advice on agenda for the next year

Adjournment at noon


Appendix #4

Assistancy Committee on Interreligious Dialogue, USA

Subcommittee Structure as Proposed at the May 2001 Board Meeting (membership of committees currently under formation):

1. Teaching World Religions in Jesuit High Schools: Sharon Bilodeau (Boston College High School), Peggy Crawford (Brebeuf Jesuit Prep)

2. Religious Pluralism on Jesuit college and university campuses: Alexei Michalenko (Georgetown Law School).

3. Jesuit Mission History Project: Philip Chmielewski, S.J. (Loyola University, Chicago), and Frank Clooney, S.J. (who is currently writing an initial study, possibly for Studies in Jesuit Spirituality; a draft of this essay is available upon request)

4. The Academic Study of Religions as a Resource for Dialogue: Tracy Pintchman (Loyola University, Chicago).

5. The Woodstock Center, Washington, DC — a possible base for a national project: James Redington, S.J. (Woodstock Center)

6. Interreligious Marriages as a Locus for Pastoral and Dialogical Reflection: Frank Clooney, S.J. (Boston College)

7. Website: Raymond Bucko, S.J. (Creighton University)

Coordinator: Francis X. Clooney, S.J

Assistant to the Coordinator: Tracy Tiemeier (Boston College]



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