The Work of Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem
By: Father John Paul, Rector of Tantur
The Tantur Ecumenical Institute can trace its foundation to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. Few people realize that this historic Council had a number of Protestant theologians and church leaders serving as “observers” as well as advisors to those writing the documents of this Council, especially on Ecumenism. The momentum in ecumenical dialog and conversation was further enhanced in 1964 with the historic meeting, in Jerusalem, between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Beatitude Athanagoras. Flowing out of that meeting was the desire to found (in Jerusalem) a center for theological study, dialogue, and research that would continue to build bridges of understanding and reconciliation between the various churches in Western Europe as well as the Orthodox and Oriental Churches in the East. Thus, the Vatican was able to obtain from the Knights of Malta a hilltop overlooking Bethlehem and establish this Ecumenical Center.
The Tantur Ecumenical Institute continues to provide education and sabbatical programs throughout the year for those who are seeking a spiritual pilgrimage and immersion experience into biblical studies, biblical geography, the roots of Christianity in Judaism, the impact of Islam, excursions to holy sites sacred to the Jewish, Christians, and Muslims, as well as the complexity of life in this Holy land. These programs–open to pastors, priests, religious, and lay people from a variety of religious denominations–weave together a deepening of faith as well as providing a greater experience of ecumenical dialog and collaboration.
Tantur is renowned as an “Oasis” that welcomes groups from a variety of faith traditions, providing an atmosphere of hospitality and opportunities to learn from “encounters” with each other in a “neutral environment” of trust.
The mission of Tantur Ecumenical Institute remains one of peace-building through its programs and various other forms of ecumenical and inter-religious dialog and faith-sharing. “Encounter” remains a keyword in our mission—encountering the “other” in an atmosphere of wanting to learn about the other as well as becoming known by the other. In this mutual interchange, we discover the sacredness of each other as well as the richness of our diversity and unity. In the words of Pope Francis: “Unity does not imply uniformity; it does not necessarily mean doing everything or thinking in the same way. Nor does it signify a loss of identity.”
The mission of Tantur also includes remaining a source of support and accompaniment of local Christians as the “living stones” of faith present in this Holy Land for the past 2000 years. It is important that we work with the local faith communities to deepen the awareness of this being the birthplace of Christianity, to strengthen the religious education of youth, to provide spiritual experiences that sustain and empower, and to form faith-based community leaders who work for the benefit of all.
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About the Author: Fr. John Paul is a member of the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). He was ordained in 1980 and has a Masters of Sacred Theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California as well as a Masters of Fine Arts in Theatre from The Catholic University in Washington DC. He has served as Director of Novices, Assistant Provincial, Director of Formation, and Provincial Assistant for Native Ministry in his years of internal governance within the Jesuits. He also has ministered with Native peoples on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota working as teacher, superior, president, and superintendent of schools at Red Cloud Indian School. Prior to coming to Tantur, he was at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was a participant in Tantur’s 6-week program in 2013.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).