Campus News

March 22, 2010

Cardinal rule: Respect is first in interfaith dialogue

Cardinal Walter Kasper

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and a renowned global leader in ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, visited Emory March 1-4 for a series of meetings and events.

Candler School of Theology joined together with Emory's Aquinas Center of Theology and The Halle Institute to sponsor the visit, during which Kasper addressed a sold-out crowd in Glenn Memorial Auditorium, visited classes, took part in student Q&A discussions, celebrated mass, preached at Candler's chapel service, and held meetings with Jewish and Christian religious leaders from Atlanta and the Southeast.

Kasper is an eminent theologian and an influential and skillful practitioner of ecumenism. According to Candler Dean Jan Love, it was this combination of academic expertise and practical application that made Kasper an ideal candidate to address Candler students and the wider faith community.

"Cardinal Kasper combines a commitment to scholarship and engagement with the church that mirrors Candler’s own commitments in these areas. He is an extraordinarily accomplished scholar who puts his intellectual understandings into practice," she says. "He is a scholar whose practical work makes a profound positive difference."

Kasper holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Tübingen in Germany, where he later taught theology and served as dean of the theology faculty. In 2001, Pope John Paul II elevated Kasper to the rank of cardinal and appointed him president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, charging the council with guiding and serving the ecumenical activities of the Catholic Church, including Catholic-Jewish relations. The council has been involved in international theological dialogues with the major Christian denominations and numerous Jewish organizations, including the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation.

The cardinal's visit not only highlights the union of scholarship and service central to the school's mission, but it also underscores Candler's new emphasis on internationalization. To ensure its students are prepared to lead in an increasingly global context, Candler has placed a priority on internationalizing its curriculum. This year, the school has created an Office of International Initiatives, received several grants related to international engagement, undertaken its first real-time distance education course in partnership with a seminary in Brazil, and initiated a national conversation on establishing best practices in internationalizing theological education.

Love noted that Kasper is an internationally respected leader who works at the global level to address issues that Christian communities and the world face in the 21st century — namely how those of different faith traditions can "cooperate rather than collide."

"Cardinal Kasper is a Christian leader whose work seeks to bring about better relations and deeper understanding across religious traditions, an effort that should help local as well as global communities thrive," she says.

Love considers Kasper "a visionary in interfaith relations" and a good example of one who is fully anchored within a particular religious tradition but deeply dedicated to forging strong, mutually enriching relations among Christians and followers of other religions.

In each of his presentations, Kasper stressed the importance of respect in establishing authentic, open ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, maintaining that one does not need to compromise one's own faith in order to have honest and meaningful discussions with those of other faiths.

Candler Master of Divinity student Tom Carruth was one of a small group who participated in a roundtable discussion with the cardinal, where he was influenced by Kasper's message of "respecting each other in our otherness" in ecumenical and interfaith relations.

When reflecting on what he learned from this time of discussion, Carruth says, "Cardinal Kasper helped me realize the importance of deeply respecting the other when engaging in dialogue. The Christian Church is at its best when it chooses to listen first."

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