When Rita George-Tvrtkovic found out that she had been appointed to be a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, she was surprised and delighted.
“If I have any contribution to make, I’m thrilled to be able to do it,” George-Tvrtkovic said.
Surprised, because when someone from the council asked for her curriculum vitae last year, she didn’t know what it was for.
“I thought maybe they were going to ask me to give a lecture or something,” said George-Tvrtkovic, who is an associate professor of theology at Benedictine University in Lisle, former associate director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a member of both the local and national Muslim-Catholic dialogues.
When the appointment came, it was in a letter, written in Latin.
“So first I had to figure out what it meant,” she said.
She is one of 19 consultors whose role it is to lend their expertise to the pontifical council as they draft statements or engage in dialogue with different religious communities around the world, said Daniel Olsen, director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
“The members are drawn from all around the globe, so they each provide unique context for the situation in their region, whether it be the United States, the Philippines, Ghana or wherever,” Olsen said in an email interview. “They shape the conversation by adding their unique and well-informed voices to the council’s discussions.
“Each member has a unique contribution to make based on their research or experiential expertise. Some are experts in Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu dialogue. Some have lived as a religious minority in a culture, while others live in places where the Catholics are the majority. Some are laywomen and [lay]men, some are clerics, some are religious. This diversity adds texture to the dialogue and models Pope Francis’ vision that the church needs diverse voices at the table to arrive at a better picture of how to move interreligious conversations forward. It also allows the council to realize that what might work in one part of the world would not in another.”
George-Tvrtkovic said she knows many of her fellow consultors whether in person or by reputation, and is thrilled with the diversity of the group.
“There’s a mix of more academic people and then people on the ground, like from Focolare, who are hugely important in terms of grassroots dialogue,” she said. “There’s a mix of academic people and diocesan people and people in the grassroots.”
She said that she sees interreligious dialogue as, first and foremost, an opportunity for people to listen to and learn from one another.
“Especially given the current American situation, I’ve been stressing the ‘dialogue’ part of interreligious dialogue,” George-Tvrtkovic said. “I see it as a transferrable skill. If you can be practiced in interreligious dialogue, that can translate to interpolitical dialogue, interracial dialogue, intercultural dialogue — there are so many dialogues that aren’t happening now. For anyone, at any level, you can be practitioners of the dialogue of life, in your life, in your job, in your marriage, in your school. In a world that is incredibly loud and noisy, we need to be silent and listen with the ear of our hearts, as St. Benedict said. It’s part of our call as Catholics to listen and have empathy for someone who is not like us, as Jesus says, to welcome the stranger. I see all of those things as intimately related.”
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