Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The End of History

Today I finished reading Weisheit in Israel (Wisdom in Israel) by the renowned Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad (1901-1971), a German Lutheran. The book is about Jewish wisdom literature. I shall not summarize it, but for an interesting thought in the chapter on the ‘determination of times’.

Von Rad says that Israel always believed that our lives were in the hands of the Lord. His ordering activity determines our destiny. This does not exclude the freedom of the will; God’s foresight and shaping of ends is not as deterministic as that. He merely arranges things so that they end up according to his will: for instance, with Joseph as vice-regent in Egypt. When necessary, He intervenes, by sending plagues to Egypt, lengthening the day, calling Isaiah, or something of that sort. When apposite, He changes his mind, e.g. after Jonah’s mission to Nineveh.

The apocalyptic vision in late Judaism represents a significant shift. For the apocalyptic authors, everything is already set in stone – or worse, in the ‘tablets of heaven’. This means that those who have had a vision of God have received knowledge of history, rather than God’s will for the moment. According to the (apocryphal) Book of Jubilees, God has shown Moses the events that had been and that were to come; it is this history that Moses recorded, from the creation to the day of the new creation. Jacob, too, would have read the entire history of his descendants on a tablet shown to him by an angel. In other apocalyptic literature, Henoch is said to have gained knowledge of the future through looking in the heavenly books.

As Von Rad says: ‘The image of the divine determination … has forced the old image of history as a place of tension between occurring promises and unfolding fulfillments into the background.’

This drastically changes the view of history. There are no ‘innergeschichtliche Heilsgründungen’ (foundations of salvation within history). Certainly salvation takes place within history, but it is, in a sense, salvation from history – from what St. Paul calls the ‘aeon’, the spirit of the time, the prince of the world. Salvation occurs ‘at the margins of history’ from a world that has been permeated by evil. It is not prepared in time; it intrudes upon it.

Von Rad again: ‘The end breaks abruptly into an ever-increasingly darkening world of history, and the benefits of salvation, which had long been pre-existently available in the heavenly world – ‘until the times are at an end’ – (Son of Man, the new Jerusalem), come into appearance.’ The recipient of salvation is not Israel, but a holy remnant, or a congregation of individuals.

The story of God’s blessings in history (like the election of Abraham ‘to be a blessing’, the gift of the Law to Moses, the establishment of David), is replaced by knowledge of the periods or ages of history, in which God’s sovereignty can be seen. (Despite the appearance of the present age, there really is a plan!) But the events of the past do not provide any legitimacy to present affairs; the anticipated future is the measure of things.

In the Apocalypse of Ezra, Ezra complains that God has not given Israel a way to attain to salvation, despite his great plans. The promise of eternity has become useless in view of the evil works that Israel has done. Ezra’s angelic interlocutor confirms that little good has come to Israel in history, but there is a possibility for Israelites to attain to life and salvation in the age to come. Abraham was elected to understand the mysteries of this age.

In conclusion: ‘A view on history has arisen without praise for the historical sources of God’s salvation. Praise only springs forth in view of the apocalyptic end. The sense of the present meaning of God’s past deeds has disappeared. History has become matter of fact, to be adduced for instruction, but above all to turn the hour in which one lives to the right purpose.’

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

To Cambridge

There was a Plaza acquaintance of mine, Scea, beloved of Silendra and Gerontian, whose blog I have the rewarding habit of reading. A few months ago I heard she was coming to England to study in Cambridge for a while. Since her time on the island was already nearing its end, I asked if I could visit. It was time for another Eurolines adventure.

I had booked the 20.30 coach from Amsterdam to London and arrived an hour in advance; as there were still some seats left on the 19.30 coach, I could leave before I even finished my coffee.

There were a lot of empty seats – in the beginning; but we picked up more passengers in The Hague, Rotterdam, Roosendaal and Breda, and ultimately I ended up wedged between a big man of colour and the window. I was reading A Dance with Dragons on my e-reader; as I had started reading the first part on my first Eurolines experience, I hoped I might finish the latest book on the second. This turned out to be too ambitious, however; reading 200 pages took more time than estimated, and I needed to sleep as well.

We went south to France because there is a fast ferry line between Calais and Dover. Before we could board, our passports were checked at two consecutive points (we walked from the EU to the UK checkpoint). When the coach was parked in the enormous hold of the ferry, we had to go upstairs so I could drink my 3.30am coffee in the floating restaurant.

The famous cliffs of Dover seemed small and glum behind the garish harbour buildings. We moored, looked for our coach, found it, climbed aboard, and disembarked.

After a pleasant journey, we arrived at Victoria Coach Station at 5.30. The underground was still closed until 6, so we waited patiently. In the end, I arrived at Cambridge station an hour in advance, around 8.

Scea / Christy came to meet me; we sat down for a small continental breakfast at her favourite coffee place and chatted about philosophy, the upcoming exams, Socrates, ecumenism, Tolkien, and the willow-meads of Tasarinan in the Spring.

We walked to Pembroke College, her residence, between great expanses of green grass and medieval-looking buildings. It started to rain, so Christy got out her umbrella and I donned rain gear; I had been warned beforehand of impending meteorological doom.

We visited the chapel of the College, a beautiful medieval church with a fan vault, built in the time of Henry VI and a few other kings in that period. Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn were commemorated on a large ornamental wooden screen that separated the two halves of the church. Christy pointed out the greyhound, the Welsh dragon, the Tudor rose. Apparently she knew a lot about British history. There was a historical exposition in a part of the church (separated by walls from the space of worship), where information was given about the construction of the church, the making of stained glass, the politics of the time, and so on.

Duly impressed, I accompanied Christy to the dining hall of her college, a well-occupied hall with a high ceiling and large windows. We had lunch (my chance to have white beans in tomato sauce with my sausage) and talked about our future plans, Arthurian romances, and the shift from brotherly to chivalric love described by C.S. Lewis in The Allegory of Love.

Having briefly visited the library and the garden, we went on a long walk through more natural surroundings. The sun had come out. At one point we saw goslings trying and failing to climb out of the water. After a healthy ramble, we found ourselves with tea and scones in a pavilion where E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf and Keynes once used to sit and discuss the arts.

We walked back, visited the oldest church in the city (St. Bene’t’s, short for Benedict’s) and went down to King’s College Chapel for Evensong. Though rather sleepy initially, I did enjoy the service; the psalms and canticles were beautifully sung. Nothing beats English choirs for euphony.

And then we had dinner with stereotypical drinks (there was a rowdy crowd from town about) and walked along the river Cam, which has given the city its name, and through lively parks, while Christy explained what The Phantom Tollbooth was all about. We came across a man who seemed quite upset and quite drunk, kicking boxes and cursing Cameron and tourists, for some reason. Christy remarked he sounded rather like Gollum.

As the evening grew dark we watched the blackbirds, a new occupation for me. Christy talked about Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and his literary and philosophical erudition. She remarked, ‘He makes learning seem beautiful.’

Ultimately the time came to go to the station, to leave elegant Cambridge and Christy after a beautiful day. We said goodbye; Christy went home, I on to London Stansted, where I would fly out in the morning.

The airport was closed except for the entrance hall. To my surprise, dozens of people were already sleeping everywhere; some had brought mats, many simply lay on the floor or dozed sitting up. I tried to sleep, but woke after a while. Sleepy, but not inclined to sleep, I blinked wearily at my e-reader and managed to finish A Dance with Dragons above coffee. Until I flew off to celebrate Pentecost by attending Mass with the Bishop of Breda in his cathedral, and then home, to surprise my parents with the story of my travels.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014


This post is the second half of a diptych and contains Game of Thrones spoilers.

I’ve been reading A Dance with Dragons (Part 5), and experienced a sinking feeling when reading about Daenerys. The young dragon queen started out so well; she conquered three cities in a row (Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen) to liberate all the slaves. The end of human trafficking in Slaver’s Bay, one would think. But old habits are hard to break.

In Part 5, Daenerys is bogged down in Meereen. Astapor is destroyed and Meereen is besieged by Yunkai, where the slave trade has resumed.

Dangers are inside and outside. Innocents are killed every day within the city walls. Plague-ridden refugees from Astapor camp in the fields, while the mercenary armies of Yunkai march on the city. Food is growing scarce. Daenerys has grown afraid of her own dragons, since one of them killed a child; two are chained, while the third roams wild.

Surrounded by death and the prospect of death, Daenerys wants peace. To accomplish that, she must marry a nobleman from Meereen, Hizdahr, who can stop the killing inside the walls, appease the nobility, and make peace with Yunkai. But peace means compromise. The slave trade in Yunkai is no longer to be opposed, and the fighting pits in Meereen are to be reopened for gladiator shows.

After the glorious conquests of pure idealism with dragons, this is rather depressing.

Daenerys accepts. She marries. Her new husband takes her to preside with him at a show in the fighting pits. On the way they come across a man who has collapsed while carrying someone in a seat:

“Those bearers were slaves before I came. I made them free. Yet that palanquin is no lighter.” “True,” said Hizdahr, “but those men are paid to bear its weight now. Before you came, that man who fell would have an overseer standing over him, stripping the skin off his back with a whip. Instead he is being given aid.”
It was true. A Brazen Beast in a boar mask had offered the litter bearer a skin of water. “I suppose I must be thankful for small victories,” the queen said.

In Daznak’s Pit, a young man dies:

“A boy,” said Dany. “He was only a boy.”
“Six-and-ten,” Hizdahr insisted. “A man grown, who freely chose to risk his life for gold and glory. No children die today in Daznak’s, as my gentle queen in her wisdom has decreed.” Another small victory. Perhaps I cannot make my people good, she told herself, but I should at least try to make them a little less bad.

How can you be a proper queen-liberator in the face of all the obstacles and resistances the world presents? How do you keep the momentum of your charge and care for all your charges at the same time? How do you avoid the poison of the choice for the lesser evil?

At this point nothing serves except the draco ex machina. The wild dragon returns and lands in the Pit. Daenerys fights him, tames him, rides him into the sky. And I heave a sigh of relief. The problems are far from over, but at least the queen has found her element again.

Well, dear readers, that was it for today. I hope you are savouring the time between Ascension and Pentecost.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Pilgrim's Progress (?)

When life has no more glitter, is that a good or a bad thing?

I used to have ‘convictions and predilections stout’ – to pick just a few, that Tolkien was the greatest author in the history of literature, that assenting to the Christian creed was guaranteed to bring lifelong happiness and prosperity (and denying it only darkness and error), that insensitivity to heroic ideals and images was the worst curse anyone could be afflicted with.

Now I’m not so sure.

Even seminary life has lost its magic. The image of the devout souls who have given every second of their lives to the Messiah, dwelling somewhere in the outer precincts of Heaven in anticipation of their mission, has given way to the image of a group of guys who have somehow blundered into the same building and learnt to live with each other – no mean feat either. And there’s always work to be done in the Church, though what work and why and to what effect – let’s say that’s part of the mystery of the Church.

I hope that the loss of glitter is a way towards seeing things more profoundly, not more shallowly.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Divine Mercy Sunday

Last Sunday, two Popes were canonized by Pope Francis. I was there. With another seminarian, I went to the Vatican around 00.15 and crossed the Angel’s Bridge at 00.49. Not too far along the Via della Conciliazione between the Angel’s Fortress and St. Peter’s Square, we found we could no longer advance, so we went back a short distance and sat down in front of a screen.

People were lying down on the ground on mats and in sleeping bags. Others had brought chairs. A statue of the Blessed Virgin that stood to our right had been decorated with a scarf that said ‘POLSKA’.

For some reason, either because the crowd had gone back or because a new stretch of road had opened, we found out that we could walk further, perhaps around 2am. At the next screen, we debated whether we should go on or sit down. We went on, and got stuck. That is how it started.

For about seven hours, the two of us stood in a road full of people, with more and more coming from behind. Groups around us sat down on chairs or on the ground, until there was another small wave of forward motion and we could advance a number of steps. We were carried along by the movement; the crowd was packed together densely, with people pushing and shoving at every new surge.

Twice I almost fell asleep standing and flailed, hitting the people around me, thankfully not their heads. A third time my friend snapped his fingers in front of my face a few times before I realized what was happening.

‘You can try to sit if you like,’ he said, and I lowered myself to the ground (which was difficult enough) for a short while. But he remained upright for a full twelve hours or more.

Eventually we were separated, but the periodic movement went on. In the early morning light, I found that I was close to the first screen before St. Peter’s Square. Closer was hardly possible. People kept coming in from and going away to the side of the road, where more movement was possible; every time someone passed, I had to shift my backpack; in the end I had to lift it above my head.

As this was very inconvenient, I decided to forgo the place I had waited so long to obtain; I went off to the side and walked back a short way, but still in sight of the first screen. The view was not ideal where I ended up, but it was a bit quieter and I could sit down for a while.

I suppose there was great excitement when the Pope arrived, but I don’t remember; in my fatigue, it all seemed rather muted.

Around ten o’clock the canonization Mass started with the Litany of the Saints. The sound was not properly synchronized; for every phrase there were two echoes, so that it was difficult to hear or to sing along.

At the first reading, a girl offered me a seat, for which I was very grateful. During the Liturgy of the Word, many people were dozing off or simply sleeping. It seemed ironic to me that those who had shown the greatest fervour in coming here were the least able to participate in the actual Mass.

During the homily, the kind girl next to me fell asleep, her body folded double. After a while the lady on my other side asked if she was breathing. I did not check, but said she was.

When everyone rose for the Creed, the girl remained where she was. During the offertory, the lady asked me again if she was breathing. Thinking that I had better make sure, I shook her until she opened her eyes. ‘Are you all right?’ I said. ‘We were worried for a second.’

She told me that she was from Poland. I said I was from the Netherlands, and introduced myself. She said her name was Dominika – which my mind translated as ‘the Sunday girl’. Beautiful and apt.

Communion was a holy chaos; sometimes people held up their hands to indicate they still wanted to receive Communion; we had to wrestle and be pushed towards the priest, and away from him after receiving. There was really no graceful way of doing it.

I am still glad to have been there for this once-in-a-lifetime event, though it feels like I missed it mentally. Well, it has been recorded; I can watch it again. It was worth the vigil, for the memory and the kindness exchanged.

And, as my friend later pointed out: though all sacred hosts are of equal value, it’s still special to have received one consecrated by two Popes.

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Reformed Wedding

A friend of mine got married on Thursday. I’ve known him from the time we both attended a Reformed secondary school, and as we belonged to the same group of friends, we’ve stayed in touch. His bride comes from another part of the country. Her family name is De Pater, but since women traditionally acquire a double surname on their wedding day, her last name is now Brand-de Pater – which translates as ‘Burn the Friar’.

I was unable to make it to the civil ceremony and the church service, but I did attend the wedding reception. While standing in line to congratulate the bride and groom, I had a conversation with someone I had not seen since secondary school, about seven years ago. Back in the day we had had only casual contact.

We exchanged news on what we were doing these days; he had gone into graphic design, I think. On hearing that I was in formation for the priesthood, he remarked that there was an ongoing rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants. ‘The main lines are the important thing,’ he thought.

‘Yes, those too,’ I said.

More confidentially he went on, ‘I don’t know how [the groom] stands in the faith; do you? I couldn’t make it out from the sermon either.’

‘I don’t know either,’ I said. ‘But what do you mean by ‘how he stands in the faith’?’

‘Well, whether he is converted,’ he answered, ‘whether Jesus Christ is his Redeemer. I don’t know how that is with you…’ (This was in the plural form and thus referred more generally to the Catholic perception on conversion. ‘Yes, certainly,’ I said.)

‘But I’m afraid to ask him now,’ he said. ‘I haven’t really talked to him since secondary school and it might be strange to ask the question now, when I haven’t brought it up all those years. You do feel that you’ve fallen short…’

I agreed today might not be the best day to ask, and excused myself on the ground that I still had to write my card.

The bride and groom were radiant and cordial, and I managed to extend my congratulations just past the point of awkwardness; for which I take full responsibility.

Once inside, I joined two old friends at a table and asked, ‘How was the church service?’

Before the answer was given, we were joined by a young couple. The husband also belonged to our group of friends; he had always maintained a near-complete silence at our gatherings, but had still managed to get married in January, whereas the two others did not even have girlfriends on the horizon. His young wife was with him, and being married seemed to agree with them both.

One friend told them I had just asked how the sermon had been.

‘Technically speaking I was asking about the church service,’ I said.

The couple said that the sermon had been mostly inaudible where they were sitting; the sound installation had not been properly synchronized with the minister’s speech.

The friend had been seated more towards the front and had not experienced these problems. He said: ‘It was good, it is always good when the Gospel of grace for sinners is preached honestly.’ Or words to that effect.

‘Hm-mm,’ I said.

Some time afterwards, we were joined by another person I hadn’t seen since secondary school, though I knew he had gone on to study theology. He was accompanied by a girlfriend. The last three years of school, we had had heated but friendly debates about all sorts of topics. When I converted to Catholicism during my first year of college, the first question he asked me on MSN was whether I had already returned to Protestantism. I was insulted because he seemed not to take me seriously, and stopped responding.

Today the six-year silence was broken. One of the first questions he asked was, ‘Are you Reformed yet?’

‘I am in a process of daily reformation,’ I said, ‘in the context of Cornelis semper reformandus.’ This made him laugh.

Studying God’s revelation as an academic subject has a way of generating rather than arresting conversations, and so my talk with him was longer and more spirited than the ones reported above. It turned out he was in his final year of his Masters in Theology. ‘And then?’ I queried. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘What would you do if you were me?’ ‘I haven’t seen you in seven years,’ I said. ‘What would you do if you were you?’ ‘I really don’t know,’ he said.

Though he had been a math-and-science type at school, he had started specializing in Semitic languages, studying not only Biblical Hebrew, but also Ugaritic and Syrian on the side, and who knows what else. Also he had started reading The Lord of the Rings, after having seen the first movie. ‘Only now I begin to understand what kind of world you were living in back at school,’ he said, not unkindly. He praised the masterful writing of the book, its Christian themes and the way it conjured up an authentic medieval worldview, but still saw the danger of getting too involved in a fantasy world.

He asked: ‘What do you think about Luther? What do you think about the justification of the sinner?’ I struggled to give just answers. He said, ‘The answer is, Does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?’ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 64)

It was good to chat with him again. His girlfriend was nice too; she studied English at Leiden University, so I asked about her favourite author. It turned out she was less interested in literature than in grammar and phonetics. Knowing her boyfriend, perhaps I should have guessed.

Around 7.30pm the reception ended. I shook hands with the bride, walked out, realized I had overlooked the groom and walked back to shake hands with him. My theologian friend called out, ‘It’s nice to see you retrace your steps. You should do that more often.’

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Pope and the Bishops

On Friday evening, the rector of the seminary e-mailed us with the optimistic announcement that we were going to discuss Evangelii Gaudium on Monday evening, so would we please read it over the weekend. Saturday was a day of silent reflection, so not the time to do ‘homework’, even reading a beautiful papal exhortation. On Sunday, however, I was able to read most of it. What struck me most about the document, aside from its personal tone and invigorating character, was the Pope’s performance (in the document) of what he himself encouraged, namely processes of participation:

Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacyThe Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit.” Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. (32)

Pope Francis does his best to remedy this defect by frequent reference to the teaching of the bishops from around the world. Here is as full a list as I can make it:

missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity. Along these lines the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”. (15; reference to the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, Aparecida Document, 2007)

The African bishops, for example, taking up the Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, pointed out years ago that there have been frequent attempts to make the African countries “parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel. This is often true also in the field of social communications which, being run by centres mostly in the northern hemisphere, do not always give due consideration to the priorities and problems of such countries or respect their cultural makeup”. (62; reference to Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, 1995)

By the same token, the bishops of Asia “underlined the external influences being brought to bear on Asian cultures. New patterns of behaviour are emerging as a result of over-exposure to the mass media… As a result, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family”. (62; reference to Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, 1999)

As the bishops of the United States of America have rightly pointed out, while the Church insists on the existence of objective moral norms which are valid for everyone, “there are those in our culture who portray this teaching as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights. Such claims usually follow from a form of moral relativism that is joined, not without inconsistency, to a belief in the absolute rights of individuals. In this view, the Church is perceived as promoting a particular prejudice and as interfering with individual freedom”. (64; reference to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care, 2006)

[T]he indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”. (66; reference to the Conférence des Évêques de France, Élargir le mariage aux personnes de même sexe? Ouvrons le débat!, 2012)

The Bishops of Oceania asked that the Church “develop an understanding and a presentation of the truth of Christ working from the traditions and cultures of the region” and invited “all missionaries to work in harmony with indigenous Christians so as to ensure that the faith and the life of the Church be expressed in legitimate forms appropriate for each culture”. (118; reference to Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, 2001)

The Aparecida Document describes the riches which the Holy Spirit pours forth in popular piety by his gratuitous initiative. On that beloved continent, where many Christians express their faith through popular piety, the bishops also refer to it as “popular spirituality” or “the people’s mysticism”. It is truly “a spirituality incarnated in the culture of the lowly”. Nor is it devoid of content; rather it discovers and expresses that content more by way of symbols than by discursive reasoning, and in the act of faith greater accent is placed on credere in Deum than on credere Deum. It is “a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling part of the Church and a manner of being missionaries”; it brings with itself the grace of being a missionary, of coming out of oneself and setting out on pilgrimage: “Journeying together to shrines and taking part in other manifestations of popular piety, also by taking one’s children or inviting others, is in itself an evangelizing gesture”. Let us not stifle or presume to control this missionary power! (124; references to the Aparecida Document)

In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor. This has been eloquently stated by the bishops of Brazil: “We wish to take up daily the joys and hopes, the difficulties and sorrows of the Brazilian people, especially of those living in the barrios and the countryside – landless, homeless, lacking food and health care – to the detriment of their rights. Seeing their poverty, hearing their cries and knowing their sufferings, we are scandalized because we know that there is enough food for everyone and that hunger is the result of a poor distribution of goods and income. The problem is made worse by the generalized practice of wastefulness”. (191; reference to the Conferência Nacional dos Bispos de Brazil, Exigências evangélicas e éticas de superação da miséria e da fome, 2002)

Here I would make my own the touching and prophetic lament voiced some years ago by the bishops of the Philippines: “An incredible variety of insects lived in the forest and were busy with all kinds of tasks… Birds flew through the air, their bright plumes and varying calls adding color and song to the green of the forests… God intended this land for us, his special creatures, but not so that we might destroy it and turn it into a wasteland… After a single night’s rain, look at the chocolate brown rivers in your locality and remember that they are carrying the life blood of the land into the sea… How can fish swim in sewers like the Pasig and so many more rivers which we have polluted? Who has turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?” (215; reference to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?, 1988)

Diversity is a beautiful thing when it can constantly enter into a process of reconciliation and seal a sort of cultural covenant resulting in a “reconciled diversity”. As the bishops of the Congo have put it: “Our ethnic diversity is our wealth… It is only in unity, through conversion of hearts and reconciliation, that we will be able to help our country to develop on all levels”. (230; reference to the Comité Permanent de la Conférence Épiscopale Nationale du Congo, Message sur la situation sécuritaire dans le pays, 2012)

Interreligious dialogueis in first place a conversation about human existence or simply, as the bishops of India have put it, a matter of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows”. (250; reference to the Indian Bishops’ Conference, The Role of the Church for a Better India, 2013)

Eleven quotes, or a set of quotes in one case, which are presented as coming from the bishops. I say ‘presented’, firstly because some of them are Pope John Paul II’s reworking of the bishops’ remarks, and secondly because they are quite explicitly introduced as the teaching of local bishops. Various parts from the whole world are represented, speaking on themes near to the hearts of the speakers.

Thus the exhortation from the Bishop of Rome has taken on the form it wished to take, not smoothing over differences, but incorporating them into a multifaceted whole:

Here our model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them. Instead, it is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness. Pastoral and political activity alike seek to gather in this polyhedron the best of each. (236)