Papal Message for Lent 2023

"The Saviour's Transfiguration," icon. Ab. 1403, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Author unknown (until recently it was believed that the icon was painted by Theophanes the Greek)

“The Saviour’s Transfiguration,” icon. Ab. 1403, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Author unknown (until recently it was believed that the icon was painted by Theophanes the Greek). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Each year the ancient Christian practice of a penitential season in preparation for Holy Week and Easter becomes an integral part of our spiritual journey. The forty-day period follows the pattern established by Moses, Elijah and Jesus, without the same rigor of their fast!

This year Pope Francis continues to draw attention to the synodal process of the universal Church in preparation for the Synod of Bishops in October 2023 and 2024.The message focuses on the Synoptic Gospel account of the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James and John on a high mountain in Galilee. It provides much food for thought.

Franklin Henderson (1933 – 2023)

Franklin Henderson (1933 – 2023)With sadness I learned that a friend from the early years of my work in Edmonton Alberta, Franklin Henderson, has passed from this world. However, I imagine that both he and his wife Ruth are marveling to be part of the Heavenly Liturgy!

The Archdiocese of Edmonton, Alberta was enriched in many ways when the city grew greatly in population during the 1960s. The University of Alberta hired Dr. Joseph Franklin Henderson in 1963 in the Department of Biochemistry, where he worked with the Faculty of Medicine and published widely. His beloved wife Ruth was pleased to share that citations of Frank’s publications topped a thousand in many a year.

Frank’s approach to the challenges of scientific research was carried into the areas of interfaith relations and the history of the Latin Rite liturgy. In the year when full membership in the North American Academy of Liturgy was restricted to those who had advanced studies in the field, Frank was honored for his significant contribution to this Academy.

He and I participated in Jewish-Christian studies at the International Congress of Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, Michigan) and contributed the essay “Jews and Judaism in the Medieval Latin Liturgy” to the volume The Liturgy of the Medieval Church (Medieval Institute Publications, 2005). In the late 1970s we were participants in the consultation of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy regarding inclusive language in English liturgical texts.

May Frank rest in peace, rewarded for his many contributions to human understanding of the fields of medicine and Christian worship. May his soul rest in peace!

Pope Francis’ Recent Visit to Africa

Pope Francis’ Recent Visit to Africa. Satellite image of African Continent

In the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies, we have a great interest in the recent visit of Pope Francis in a mission of peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, which took place January 31 – February 5, 2023 and marks his fifth trip to Africa.

As part of the synodal process, Pope Francis entered into dialogue with Catholics, politicians and ordinary citizens, many of whom have suffered greatly from tribal feuding, war and economic exploitation. Many people have been killed, and millions have been displaced and are grappling to meet basic needs such as food and shelter.

Pope Francis’ apostolic journey was also an ecumenical one as the Church of England’s Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields accompanied him. The three Christian leaders highlighted the plea for justice and peace for the Congolese and South Sudanese peoples and joined together with the Christian faithful for an ecumenical prayer service in Juba, South Sudan on February 4.

Pope Francis called for unity during the ecumenical prayer for peace:

“… Dear friends, those who would call themselves Christians must choose which side to take. Those who choose Christ choose peace, always; those who unleash war and violence betray the Lord and deny his Gospel. What Jesus teaches us is clear: we are to love everyone, since everyone is loved as a child of our common Father in heaven. The love of Christians is not only for those close to us, but for everyone, for in Jesus each person is our neighbour, our brother or sister – even our enemies (cf. Mt 5: 38-48). How much more true is this of those who are members of the same people, albeit belonging to different ethnic groups. ‘That you love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15:12): that is Jesus’ commandment, and it contradicts every ‘tribal’ understanding of religion. ‘That they may all be one’ (Jn 17:21). That is Jesus’ heartfelt prayer to the Father for all of us who believe.

Let us work together, brothers and sisters, to foster this fraternal unity among ourselves as Christians, and help to bring the message of peace to society by spreading Jesus’ way of non-violence. Those who claim to be believers should have nothing more to do with a culture based on the spirit of vengeance. The Gospel must not be just a beautiful religious philosophy, but a prophecy that becomes reality in history. Let us work for peace by weaving and mending, not by cutting or tearing. Let us follow Jesus, and in following him, let us walk together on the path to peace (cf. Lk 1:79).

… Dear friends, my brothers and I have come, together, as pilgrims to be with you, the holy people of God, on your journey. Even if distance separates us physically, we always remain close to you. Let us set out each day by praying for one another, by working together as witnesses and mediators of the peace of Jesus, and by persevering in the same journey by our practical acts of charity and unity. In all things, let us love one another constantly and from the heart (cf. 1 Pet 1:22).” (“Ecumenical Prayer,” “John Garang” Mausoleum [Juba] Saturday, 4 February 2023)

May this call for justice and the good of all lead to a resolution of the conflicts that have destroyed or uprooted countless lives over the decades!

I would like to note that February 4, 2023 also commemorated the Third International Day of Human Fraternity and the presentation of the annual Zayed Award for Human Fraternity. It was the occasion for a video message that recalled the visits of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi and Iraq and the historic meeting between the Holy Father and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, during which they co-signed the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”.

This year the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity chose the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome and Mrs. Shamsa Abubakar Fedhil, secretary of the Mombasa Women of Faith Network in Kenya, as co-honorees of the 2023 award. “Now in its fourth edition, the award recognizes honorees from around the world for their contributions to building a more peaceful, and compassionate world based on the values of human fraternity.” (

Congratulations to both for their work on peacebuilding!

We invite all to peruse the text of Pope Francis’ message on this occasion.

International Day of Prayer against Human Trafficking

On February 8, 2023 the Church observed the ninth International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking on the feast of Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), who was abducted and enslaved in South Sudan at the age of 9. Eventually she escaped the worst fate when, at the age of 15, she was purchased by an Italian family. She came to Italy and found freedom.

As a religious Sister of the Canossian Congregation, Josephine Bakhita gave witness to a life of Christian service. She was canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II and is the patroness of those trapped in servitude. Imposed by her abductors, her name Bakhita means “Lucky One.” What some call “Luck” she recognized to be the gift of God which brings eternal blessing.

Below is the video message of Pope Francis for the Ninth International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking on the theme Journeying in dignity, which you can also read in English here.

May those in need of the basic freedom to experience their personal dignity be helped by our prayer and action every day!

2023 Day of Judaism and Christian Unity Week

Christian Unity Week

Christians have been joining together for an octave of ecumenical prayer (January 18-25) for 115 years. This observance seeks the fullness of unity in Jesus’ prayer:

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21, New American Bible)

This tradition of praying for peace and harmony, once referred to as the Church Unity Octave (eight days) and now called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was established in January 1908 by Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement in Graymoor, NY. Over the years, it has flourished into global observance by people of all denominations throughout the world.

The Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute’s, “Brief History of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25, 2020,” provides an excellent outline of the historical development of the prayer for unity. Refer also to my 30-minute interviews “Prayer for Christian Unity in the Context of Christian Unity Week” with Monsignor John A. Radano and “Christian Ecumenism and the Society of the Atonement” with Sister Lorilei Fuchs, SA, of blessed memory.

In the 1990s, the Bishops of Italy in partnership with leaders of the Jewish community promoted a “Day of Judaism” for January 17th on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Bishops of Poland, Austria and other European countries have adopted similar annual days of Christian-Jewish reflections with variations.

A liturgical day of remembrance, the “Day of Judaism” reminds all Christians to explore the roots of Christianity in its Jewish matrix and to value the enduring significance of Judaism and its Sacred Scriptures. This reflection on the Biblical heritage that we share with the Jewish people is an ideal way to inaugurate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The theme for the 2023 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “Do good; seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17) and this year’s texts for use each day was prepared by the Minnesota Council of Churches.

“The context from which these materials were first drafted is the aftermath of the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd and the trial of the police officer responsible for his death. As the Christian communities of Minnesota sought to respond to the anguish of these events they also recognised their own historical complicity in perpetuating divisions which have contributed to racial injustice. The Church is called to be the sign and instrument of the unity God desires for the whole of His creation (cf. Lumen gentium, 1) but the division between Christians weakens the Church’s effectiveness. Christians must repent of their divisions and work together in order to be a source of reconciliation and unity in the world.” (“Texts for 2023 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” The Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity)

The suggestions for each day of the week of prayer are available on the website of the Friars of Atonement at

May these days of interfaith and ecumenical prayer and reflection lead us to implement just deeds that effect peaceful relations throughout our world!

Pope Benedict XVI (1927 – 2022) R.I.P.

Pope Benedict XVI visiting the Belém Cultural Center in Lisbon. Photo credit: M.Mazur/

Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the Belém Cultural Center in Lisbon in 2010. Photo credit: M.Mazur/

As we recall the life of Joseph Ratzinger, many will focus attention on his theological treatises and his three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth, published under his personal name during his reign as successor of St. Peter the Apostle.

We recall as well his love of music and his attention to Mozart’s works. In The Tablet of July 11, 2015, Christa Pongratz and James Roberts told of an honorary doctorate he received from the Pontifical University of John Paul II University in Krakow.  They remarked:

“It remains indelibly impressed in my memory how, for example, as soon as the first notes resounded from Mozart’s ‘Coronation Mass’, the heavens practically opened and you experienced, very deeply, the Lord’s presence,” the 88-year-old Benedict said.

He recalled the “dramatic tension” after the Second Vatican Council between those who thought large choral works and orchestrated Masses no longer had a place in the liturgy and should only be performed in concert halls, and those who feared the cultural impoverishment this would lead to.

“There is great literature, great architecture, great art and great sculpture in the diverse cultures and religious fields. And there is music everywhere. But you will not find music of the magnitude of that which the Christian world brought forth – the music of Palestrina, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner – in any other cultural region,” Benedict said. “This music is unique…it must not disappear from the liturgy as its presence means partaking in the mystery of faith in a very special way.”

As we recall the theological insights of Pope Benedict XVI we might also consider the way in which music inspires a reflection on the hints of the divine order that are offered to those who listen for the sublime and bring this gift into our daily lives.

The World Day of Peace

For Catholics the First of January, the Octave of Christmas, is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, with the Gospel of Luke telling of the Circumcision of Jesus. In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, another dimension was added. Pope St. Paul VI declared that this day also should be a time of prayer for peace throughout the world.

We continue to need such a time of prayer, with its challenge to become ever better builders of peace in our situation of life.

Each year the Pope offers a message of peace for the world to consider. Each person and group is invited to incorporate aspects of these reflections into their own lives. I invite our readers to consider Pope Francis’s message for the 56th World Day of Peace.

May this reflection on our common vulnerability help us to see that our shared response can include acts of service in the name of common hope for true and lasting peace.

A Jewish View of Contemporary Ideas of the Trinity

Rabbi Alan Brill, Ph.D.

Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill will present, “A Jewish View of Contemporary Ideas of the Trinity,” as the Twenty-Ninth Annual Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher Memorial Lecture.

The event will be presented online through Microsoft Teams on Thursday, October 27, 2022, at 7:45 p.m. and may be accessed by clicking here.

Rabbi Brill is the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, where he teaches Jewish studies in the Department of Religion and the Jewish-Christian Studies (JCST) Graduate Program. He is also the director of the JCST program.

Dr. Brill specializes in interfaith theology, Jewish mysticism, modern Jewish thought and contemporary Jewish Orthodoxy. His forthcoming book, A Jewish View of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Salvation will be published by Fortress Press in 2023.

The event is sponsored by the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies and is free and open to the public. I hope you will join us this Thursday!

Johann Reuchlin on the 500th Anniversary of His Death

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522)

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522)

The advancement of knowledge in any discipline involves both intensive research by individuals and collaboration among scholars across languages and cultures. In past centuries European scholars used Latin as the common language for exchange.

Serious efforts were made to build on the legacy of ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible in Greek and Latin. The translation of Aristotle’s works and Arabic commentaries brought new challenges to revitalize the search for knowledge. Sometimes these endeavors developed in a spirit of collaboration and with a search for justice on behalf of a minority.

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522) was educated in the Latin of the Middle Ages, but he learned Hebrew to share areas of Jewish scholarship and practice with people of good will and intellectual curiosity. After meeting Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 -1494) in Florence in 1490, Reuchlin became interested in Kabbalah. His purpose included the elucidation of Jewish mystical traditions for the benefit of Christian theology and piety.

The great contribution of Reuchlin was not only to tap Jewish sources, but also to defend the rights of Jews (grounded in Roman law beginning with the privileges granted long ago by Julius Caesar) and to respect the Jewish literary heritage.

After the invention of the printing press, the ancient practice of burning books was less destructive of a heritage but has continued into modern times as an act of rejection regarding the value of another culture. At great personal cost, Reuchlin defended the Jewish texts that others tried to defile. His “Expert Opinion concerning the Destruction of Jewish Books” opposed confiscation of Jewish liturgical and theological books. Jews were to be treated kindly to fulfill the command to love our neighbor.

Tragically that teaching of the Torah (Lev 19:18) and Jesus was ignored in many Christian settings! The witness of scholars today can be enhanced by recalling those who struggled against bigotry in their time.

See my review of Franz Posset, Johann Reuchlin (1465- 1522): A Theological Biography in SCJR 13 no. 1 (2018) p. 1-3.