Notre Dame’s calling to be an environment for interfaith and ecumenical dialogue
Notre Dame’s Catholic identity resonates in the many traditions and images that students come to recognize as part of daily life under the Dome. It would be hard to ignore the daily sound of Basilica bells echoing across their home on “God Quad,” or Mary’s open arms from her golden perch overlooking campus.
Because of her openly Catholic identity, Notre Dame’s student body is largely comprised of people sharing in the faith. Campus Ministry, the presence of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and over 50 chapels provide ample opportunities for students to practice Catholicism.
As a university providing acclaimed academic programs, Notre Dame also attracts many non-Catholic students who diversify the intellectual and spiritual atmosphere on campus.
Campus Ministry serves as the primary source through which Catholics and non-Catholics alike can seek spiritual fulfillment.
Speaking from the Catholic mission of the university, Campus Ministry seeks “to provide warmth and hospitality to all regardless of one’s religious belief or practice,” following both Christ’s example and the early tradition of the Holy Cross Fathers.
The group provides organization, promotion and funding for a vast variety of programs and events to make available the practice and conversation of different faiths and spiritual traditions.
One such event was a traditional Jewish Passover Seder Meal, which was organized by the Notre Dame Jewish Student Association and funded by Campus Ministry, the Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley.
Ben Finan, senior and two-year president of the Jewish Club, told the Rover that his initial challenge when he arrived on campus was connecting to the Jewish community. Now, he is grateful that it forced him to “plug into the South Bend community” and to get to know Jewish professors.
Most Jews today identify with one of four denominations: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist. Within the relatively small Jewish community at Notre Dame, Finan has found that “a broad spectrum of Jewish students show up and it’s created the trouble of trying to get us to unify under one umbrella, and find common goals.”
Finan proudly reported that the Jewish Student Association has had a successful first year of events leading up to the Seder since the group folded 6 years ago following the death of a professor.
The Passover meal served 61 people, 11 more than originally planned, including 17 Jews.
“We opened it up to Jews a week early, with the intention of making sure that all the Jewish students had a place to go for Passover because it is such a communal thing, and sometimes people do have a hard time reaching other people and trying to figure out where to go,” Finan said.
Although the Muslim Students Association did not reply to the Rover’s request for comment, its page on the Campus Ministry website reports that it has been active in organizing Qur’an reading groups, dinners, lectures and films screenings.
This year, the group also held its first annual Islam Awareness Week, which was advertised on posters and online as an all-inclusive celebration, intended to “present different aspects of Islam and reach out to the general Notre Dame community.”
As an organization intending to “provide resources for Muslims as well as to cultivate understanding and respect with other faiths,” the Muslim Student Association could be an excellent agent for interfaith dialogue on campus.
Pope Francis recently called the Church to engage with non-Christian religions in dialogue that “should help to build bridges connecting all people,” so as to replace sentiments of rivalry with those of fraternity.
Painting a background for the modern call to inter-religious dialogue, the papacy has called numerous times since the Second Vatican Council for an increase in ecumenism, conversation and collaboration between different Christian faiths.
Iron Sharpens Iron (ISI), a student-led Christian fellowship affiliated with Campus Ministry, exemplifies Notre Dame’s response to this call. It organizes weekly and special events including prayer services, service projects, social events, Bible studies and retreats.
The group is comprised of “an interdenominational community of students with members from a variety of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox backgrounds.” In honor of this diversity, the group is named after Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
One anonymous student, having recently returned to Notre Dame after four years of military service, found ISI to be a welcoming environment in which he could engage in his Christian faith.
Although about half of the participants of ISI are Catholic, he said that this does little to dampen the inclusive nature of the group.
“Most people join and stay involved within the ISI because they want to have fellowship with others in a non-denominational environment,” he said, “[n]ot because they want to engage in arguments with each other about which faith tradition is closer to theological truth.”
Father Brian Daley, SJ, an endowed Professor of Theology, provided the Rover with a statement on Notre Dame’s Catholic mission originally prepared for the University President’s new task force on ecumenical and interfaith dialogue:
“Notre Dame, as a community founded on the Catholic faith and explicitly dedicated to exploring the meaning of that faith for the world, is also called … to be a place where people dedicated to other religious traditions may join with Christians in common reflection on the divine Mystery we venerate, and on the ways all religious people may work for the peace, unity and progress of humanity.”
Notre Dame’s response to this calling, Fr. Daley said, is in seeking to harbor “a sense that our Catholic life remains unfulfilled until it is lived in a genuinely universal unity with all who follow Christ.”
Victoria Velasquez wishes that she had just a few extra weeks of her freshman year. Console her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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