John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue

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The John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue is an academic center that serves to build bridges between religious traditions, particularly between Catholic Christian and Jewish pastoral and academic leaders. The Center is a partnership between the Russell Berrie Foundation[1] and the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). It operates as part of the Section for Ecumenism and Dialogue in the Theology Faculty of the Angelicum in Rome.[2] [3]

Mission and history[edit]

The mission of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue is to build bridges between Christian and other religious traditions by promoting interreligious study and dialogue locally in Rome and on the global level through academic study and formation for religious leadership and dialogue in life and action.[4]

The Center was opened in 2010 after an agreement was reached between the Angelicum and the Russell Berrie Foundation, based on several years of close collaboration between two of the Angelicum faculty, Rev. Frederick M. Bliss, SM, then-director of the Ecumenical Section of the Theology Faculty, and Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding, in New Jersey.

Dedicated to John Paul II[edit]

The most famous alumnus of the Angelicum is Karol Wojtyła – Pope John Paul II – who earned a doctorate of philosophy there in the late 1940s.

As a child, Karol Wojtyla forged close relationships with Jewish families in his Polish hometown, witnessed first hand the horrors of the Second World War and Soviet communism, and was deeply influenced in his studies by Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas. All of these life events contributed to his commitment to interreligious bridge building.

As bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II was a tireless advocate for interreligious dialogue, and lead the Catholic Church in its implementation of the Vatican Council II documents Nostra aetate and Dignitatis humanae, including profound work for the healing of memories, outreach to the Jewish community, and establishing the Assisi interreligious day of prayer for peace. Pope John Paul II died on 2 April 2005, after nearly 27 years as bishop of Rome. He was beatified on 1 May 2011 at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, at a ceremony attended by approximately 2 million people, including representatives of the John Paul II Center.


The Center operates under the auspices of the Ecumenical Section in the Faculty of Theology, but serves as a resource for all faculty, students and guests of the university on interreligious issues and subjects. The Center provides support for the visiting faculty and students in its various programs, which include the following.

Russell Berrie fellowship in interreligious studies[edit]

The Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies is designed to provide current and future religious leadership with a comprehensive understanding of and dedication to interreligious ideas, issues, and concerns. The Fellowship invites religious leaders – whether ordained, religious, or lay – to spend a year in Rome studying at the Angelicum for a Certificate in Interreligious Studies, participate in a seminar and study tour in Israel, and in a number of specialized courses and extracurricular activities.

The Fellowship is the only “full-ride” scholarship available for most students at the pontifical universities in Rome, as it covers tuition, room and board, books and travel expenses.

As of the 2014-2015 academic year, seven cohorts of Fellows have been admitted to the program, which began with the 2008-2009 academic year. There have been 60 Fellows from 23 countries and all six inhabited continents. The Fellows have included 30 clergy (or seminarians who later became clergy), 27 laity, and 3 religious/consecrated sisters.

Fellows’ nationalities have included: Australia, Benin, Bosnia, Chile, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Gambia, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Vietnam, and the U.S.A.

Seminar and study tour in the Holy Land[edit]

“Jerusalem and Judaism: Identity and Challenges” is the study tour in which the Russell Berrie Fellows participate as a part of their program. The three major components of include the academic seminar organized and staffed by the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, the pilgrimage to Jewish and Christian holy land around Jerusalem and in the Galilee, and a series of cultural meetings and programs with local leaders. The study tour generally has taken place between semesters, in February.

Annual Pope John Paul II lecture on interreligious understanding[edit]

One of the largest and most high-profile events of the Angelicum each year since 2008 has been the Pope John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding. Globally-recognized religious leaders and academics have been invited each spring to offer insights into contemporary developments in interreligious dialogue.

  • 2008: Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Washington, DC, USA “Unifying Threads among World Religions: The Common Ground in Search for World Peace”
  • 2009: Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Warsaw, Poland “A Rabbi’s Reflection on the Teachings of John Paul II”
  • 2010: Prof. Mona Siddiqui, OBE, University of Glasgow, Scotland “Islamic Perspectives on Judaism and Christianity”
  • 2011: Prof. David F. Ford, University of Cambridge, England “Jews, Christians, and Muslims meet around their Scriptures: An Inter-faith Practice for the Twenty-first Century”
  • 2012: Cardinal Kurt Koch, Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews “Nostra Aetate: 50 Years of Christian–Jewish Dialogue.”

Starting in 2013, the annual lecture was scaled down, and moved to the Centro Pro Unione:

  • 2013: Prof. Moshe Idel, Hebrew University, Jerusalem “Judaism and the Problem of Evil”
  • 2014: Rabbi Prof. Burton Visotzky, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, "Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic and Patristic Literature"

Distinguished visiting professorships[edit]

Every year the John Paul II Center brings 2-3 distinguished visiting professors to Rome, particularly in the areas of Jewish studies and interreligious dialogue. The courses they offer are intensive, ranging from 1.5 ects 8-day courses, to 3.0 ects 15-day courses. The professors are chosen by the Center’s Academic Committee. Recent visiting professors have included:

  • Prof. Adam Afterman, Shalom Hartman Institute, Israel
  • Rabbi Prof. Jack Bemporad, Center for Interreligious Understanding, New Jersey
  • Prof. Marshall Breger, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
  • Prof. Moshe Idel, Hebrew University, Israel
  • Prof. Israel Knohl, Hebrew University, Israel
  • Prof. Menachem Lorberbaum, Tel Aviv University, Israel
  • Prof. Mona Siddiqui, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Prof. Josef Stern, University of Chicago, Illinois

Certificate in interreligious studies[edit]

A postgraduate diploma, the Certificate in Interreligious Studies is offered through the Ecumenical Section of the Faculty of Theology at the Angelicum as an opportunity for students who do not qualify for regular admission to the STL program (usually because their education came from outside the pontifical system) to enroll as students in the field of Interreligious Studies, or as a post-doctoral or sabbatical year of study.

The focus of the certificate is on methodological issues in dealing with the philosophy, theology, and sociology of religion, and the teaching of the Catholic Church in relation to interreligious dialogue and other religions. In total, the Certificate represents 14 lecture courses and two seminars totaling 50 ects, plus the redaction of an integrative final paper worth 10 ects, for a total of 60 ects.

The program has four areas of study:

  • Introduction and methodology (philosophy, hermeneutics, social sciences, anthropology of dialogue, method) 3 courses
  • History (world religions, new religious movements) 2 courses
  • Systematic (biblical themes, ecclesiology, theology/philosophy of religion, ethics) 8 courses
  • Practical (spirituality/mysticism, ecumenical and interreligious commissions, catechesis) 1 course


The Russell Berrie Foundation has as one of its primary philanthropic initiatives the support and promotion of a Jewish Renaissance. This commitment reflects a value of “creating a world where people of all faiths can respect each other’s differences and positively impact trans-denominational and interreligious understanding in future generations.”

It states as one of its goals, in this regard, to “foster interreligious understanding between Jews, Catholic Christians and those of other faiths.”

The Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (Angelicum), as a pontifical university, is “concerned particularly with Christian revelation and questions connected therewith and which are therefore more closely connected with her mission of evangelization.”[5]

This mission is a “single but complex and articulated reality” that principally includes “presence and witness; commitment to social development and human liberation; liturgical life, prayer and contemplation; interreligious dialogue; and finally, proclamation and catechesis.”[6] Proclamation and dialogue are thus both viewed, each in its own place, as component elements and authentic forms of the one evangelizing mission of the Church.[7]

The tasks of such an ecclesiastical university are to prepare students for pastoral ministry, teaching, and the “more arduous tasks of the apostolate”. This is accomplished through scientific research, the formation of students, and collaboration with the local and universal church in the whole work of evangelization.[8]

Leadership and staff[edit]

The governing body of the John Paul II Center is a committee made of representatives of the Russell Berrie Foundation and of the Angelicum (usually the theology dean and the academic adviser), and the director of the center. That committee currently consists of the following:

  • Rabbi Prof. Jack Bemporad, ex officio, Director of the John Paul II Center
  • Dr. Adam Afterman, Russell Berrie Foundation
  • Prof. James Puglisi, SA, Angelicum Ecumenical Section
  • Prof. Stipe Jurić, OP, Angelicum Dean of Theology

The staff of the Center includes a director, an academic adviser from the resident faculty, and a work-study administrative assistant. The staff are assisted by the Institute for International Education (IIE) Europe Office:

  • Rabbi Prof. Jack Bemporad, Director
  • Prof. James Puglisi, SA, Academic Advisor
  • Ms. Marija Corusa, Administrative Assistant

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Russell Berrie Foundation  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ Angelicum Newsletter  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ "Women:Living Philanthropy". Huffington Post. 
  5. ^ Pope John Paul II, Sapienza Cristiana, 3
  6. ^ Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, The Attitude of the Church Towards the Followers of Other Religions: Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission, 1984
  7. ^ Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Dialogue and Proclamation, 2
  8. ^ Pope John Paul II, Sapienza Cristiana, General Norms, Section I, Article 3

External links[edit]