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Tantur: Dialogue on the Road to Jerusalem

by Rev. Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P.

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The official Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox delegates to the Second Vatican Council told Pope Paul VI that “someone, somewhere,” should establish an institute where Christian scholars and teachers could experience a community life of prayer, study and dialogue. Following this suggestion the Council issued the Decree on Ecumenism, the watershed document for the positive Catholic stance and participation in the movement for the “restoration of unity among all Christians.”

In January 1964, the pope went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the Mount of Olives, he and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, embraced as the initial kindred gesture towards healing the tragic 1000-year-old schism separating the Body of Christ.

When Paul VI returned to Rome, he promptly acted upon those suggestions for an ecumenical institute. “It should be in Jerusalem,” he said, “where Christ founded the one, undivided Church, and where today Christians of all Communions, one yet sadly divided, find other ‘peoples of the book,’ Jews and Muslims.” The Vatican purchased the Tantur property, but an interconfessional advisory board authorizes the Institute’s programs and personnel.

The Ecumenical Institute of Tantur, Arabic for “hilltop,” sits atop a hill that overlooks the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, the road “from the womb to the tomb.”

Since Tantur’s opening in 1971, over 2,500 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic scholars from all six continents have participated in its programs.

I became rector almost two years ago, and remain enthusiastically committed to Tantur’s mission. We help each other to reflect on God’s past and present works in history, as revealed through the Scriptures and the teachings of the early church. Tantur’s programs continue the search for Christian unity and interchurch harmony through a deeper and more respectful understanding of each other’s faith and traditions, ethics and social witness, liturgies and spiritualities.

Tantur welcomes scholars, priests, religious, educators and other church members. They come for three-month refresher programs, continuing education and spiritual renewal. They share their experiences, visit local parishes, synagogues and mosques and live in a community of prayer and study. They explore biblical spiritualities and the foundations on which ecumenism is based. They become immersed in the social, political and religious situation in the Holy Land.

Students of theology come. Last winter 20 German university students, Catholic and Protestant, spent six weeks at Tantur. Last autumn, eight Catholics from Saint Paul’s Seminary in Minnesota spent a semester studying ecumenical theology and visiting biblical sites. They also studied Judaism at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

At Tantur our teaching principles are these: we describe and explain our own faith-community: Jews, Judaism; Muslims, Islam; Orthodox Christians, Orthodoxy; Catholics, Catholicism. We try to instill mutual respect for each other’s faith traditions. Then we try to humbly evaluate others’ religious traditions in light of our own. Such principles apply to everyone, everywhere.

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Tags: Jerusalem Unity Interreligious Pilgrimage/pilgrims