So the travel schedule and jam-packed conference days — not to mention the rather spotty internet service here in Assisi — has made it a bit difficult to post here with as much regularity I would have liked, but here’s at least a little something. For those who don’t know, I’ve traveled from Great Britain where I was participating in an academic conference on Thomas Merton to Assisi, Italy, where I am participating in a conference sponsored by the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network, which features scholars from a variety of traditions and fields from around the world.
To report on everything that has happened, all the paper sessions I’ve attended and plenary addresses that have been delivered, would take far too much time. So I will instead try to give you an overview.
Things kicked off with a prayer service at St. Mary of the Angels Basilica in the lower part or valley of Assisi. This is the Basilica in which the Portiuncula is housed. It is the mother church of the Order of Friars Minor and most of the conference is taking place next door to this great site.
From then on it has been a whirlwind of exciting papers, engaging plenary addresses, organized sight seeing at the holiest sites of the Franciscan world, and meals, discussions and all-around fun times. It is an exhausting schedule, but well-worth it. The ideas shared, the hopes anticipated and the trajectories illuminated make the lack of sleep and the constant running around well worth it!
One of the most interesting sessions I’ve attended so far was a concurrent paper session on the Church. The three presenters included Brian Flanagan (“The Holiness of the Church: Mark of Division or Unity?”), Pieson Shaw (“The Necessity of an Ecclesiology in Which the Church is Understood as Sacrament with Christ as Primary Sacrament: Ways to Convergence in Ecumenical Dialogue”), and Scott MacDougall (“Anticipated Communion: Ecumenism and Eschatological Ecclesiology”). All three papers were very well presented and engendered a lively conversation. It was an amazing discussion if only because of the diverse — and preeminent (myself excluded) — group gathered in an intimate setting (there were about 25 of us in the room). Among those in attendance were three leading American ecclesiologists: Roger Haight, Richard Gaillardetz and Dennis Doyle. This doesn’t even begin to include the other renowned scholars in the tiny room, professors from around the world and leading universities. What was most remarkable was that the third paper, by Scott MacDougall, drew heavily on the work of Roger Haight as a starting point and developed Haight’s thought further in a new and constructive direction…all while Haight sat a few feet away. Those moments of real dialogue and exchange always make for exciting experiences for all involved.
That evening was spent in Upper Assisi at the Basilica of St. Francis, where we celebrated evening prayer together after hearing a plenary address in Italian (simultaneously translated into English) by a Conventual Franciscan on the subject of dialogue. The evening prayer concluded with a procession to the tomb of St. Francis — all done after the Basilica was closed, so the 200+ conference attendees had the Church to ourselves.
Thursday morning began with prayer at the Basilica of St. Clare in Upper Assisi, followed by several paper sessions. I attended one on the subject of ecology and dialogue. It was a great collection of papers by a diverse group (including both a Franciscan and a Dominican sister). The presenters included Aaron Hollander, Geraldine Smyth OP, Dawn Nothwehr OSF, and John Njroge.
Part of the afternoon was designed to intentionally be available for exploring the holy places in Assisi. It so happened that those of us conference participants would occasionally run into each other, catching the eye of the others with the easily recognizable bright-orange lanyard on which hung our name tags, and wonderful impromptu theological discussions were known to break out. One such discussion too place near the Piazza of San Rufino on the nature of Christian anthropology, free will, sin and grace — it included three people from the United States, one from Poland and one from Italy.
This evening it is my turn to present my paper, “Thomas Merton’s Franciscan Model of Interreligious Dialogue,” in a panel with Michael Barnes SJ of England, Bishop Kyrillos Katerelos of Greece, and Professor Sandra Mazzolini of Italy.
Hopefully I will be able to post more in the not-so-distant future. Until then, Peace and good!