Saturday, October 27, 2007

Great Dialogue

The comments to the postings about the Rome trip have been awesome. That is what this blog is all about - behind the scenes happenings at Xavier. What are the students and faculty doing that the rest of us should know about?

Sometimes things get covered in 1:30 spot on the news or in a short piece in the paper, but there is always so much more to know. And, those media don't always allow for questions, comment, feedback.

This is an exciting time for everyone at Xavier and a great time of potential growth in Cincinnati. The Presidential election is just one year away - another opportunity for major change.

What does change mean to you? Fear, opportunity, both?

Friday, October 26, 2007

And the next step is? by Michael

First of all I would like to apologize for not responding right away to the comments people have made. I do appreciate them and as soon as I get back home, I will respond to each one individually. Please do not take offense at this. I am very glad that each of you found some time to read the postings and respond.

As the conference ended I can’t stop thinking about what happens next. Truth be told this is what I was thinking even before I boarded the plane to Rome. This weekend I will get back to my daily routine that has a very good tendency to overwhelm and dictate the rules. What happens then? What happens to the blog? I was asked to blog about my experiences at the conference, but the conference is over and a week or two later it will become history.

I strongly tried to avoid blogging about sightseeing for a very specific reason. If I asked you to tell me how the chocolate tastes, would you be able to do it? You would tell me to try a piece and find out on my own. There is no way I can describe the Sistine Chapel or the Trevi Fountain. If somebody says they can, they have never seen them not in the pictures. I could name all the paintings, tell you their history and name their creators, but it all will be useless. If you list me all the ingredients and the proportions of a lemon pie, I still would not be able to taste it, without making it and trying it. I can say that Sistine Chapel is astonishing, overwhelming, magnificent, but I can’t describe to you why I couldn’t leave it for one hour. The only reason I left is because I could have missed the conference bus, and probably it would be worth missing.

Thinking about this, I start to wonder how I can talk about the dialogue. I can find hundreds of quotes on dialogue by the best minds in the world, and yet I will not know what it is until I engage in one. I never knew how much I would miss playing tennis before I learned to play on a decent level. Now, the one thing I look forward to when I come back is picking up that racquet.

I think I start to understand why it is so hard to have a dialogue, because not a lot of people know the pleasure of agreeing with another, feeling how better you have become. Dialogue is not about winning or being right, but about becoming of better character after having one.

So, where does this leave me? In a great state of confusion. When I think about a dialogue and how to have it, the author who comes to mind is Plato. But that was many years ago. How many students can name a book, from the top of their head that taught them how to engage and have a meaningful dialogue? I am not one of them.

When was the last time somebody said let’s have a political dialogue? Never. It is impossible to have a political dialogue - only debate. Who ever has changed their mind in a debate? In schools or colleges are we even taught what dialogue is and how to have it, and I am not referring to a philosophy course that most of us slept through. Instead we have debate clubs and teams. Who even knows what a dialogue is anymore? I know for a fact that it is not just a conversation between two people. It is so much more. So how do I engage people into something I know almost nothing about?

I cheer myself thinking that I am not the only one who is having this problem. Leaders and intellectuals can lead countries, motivate people, create breathtaking experiences and yet, when it is time for a dialogue, they lose it in efforts of trying to prove their own points.

What are we doing wrong then?

Maggie discusses the papal audience

Yesterday at our papal audience, a woman sat begind me who just made my eyes well up with tears every time I turned around to sneak a glance at her. She had to have been at least 80 years old and was sitting at the audience with a man I presume was her husband. I dont know what her name was or where she was from but I can wholeheartedly say that I don't think I will ever forget her. She sat throughout the entire hour with her eyes closed, quietly mumbling the prayers of the rosary she clutched. She may have been in St. Peter's Square a hundred times in her life, I certainly don't know her story. But, given the look that was etched onto her face, this overwhelming sense of peace and contentment, I couldn't help but think that it was her first time she was in the presence of the Holy See, and that this day had been something she had wanted to do her whole life; she reminded me so very much of my own grandma, someone who I have thought a lot about on this trip. This woman was, I think, the detail I will most clearly remember of the day. To me she was an embodiment of how beautiful faith is, whatever or whoever one conceives God to be, and a reminder of how very lucky I am to have had this incredible expereince at such a young age.

The scene in St. Peter's Square was one of the most vibrantly colorful I have ever seen...people of every walk of life, faith, and culture. And yet, there we all were, gathered together, connected somehow to one another. I have so many thoughts I want to share, and again, not enough time! I wish I could bottle up this whole week and share it with all of you, but I know that all in good time, we will all have the opportunities to reflect and share. I have learned so very much and yet there there are still so many lessons to be learned, conversations to be had, experiences to be reflected on, and change to be made. A friend gave me the book "The Alchemist" to read on this trip, and I am so grateful that I have had the book to read on this trip. The story is a reminder to find our own personal legends and to follow our dreams. I don't think it would be at all inaccurate to say that everyone who has and is partcipating on this journey have come a step closer to realizing their own personal legends, the peole whom God intends for us to be.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Many comments - join in

Michael's blog from a few days ago has generated much comment. Check them out and join in!

Over the Ocean

Our group of travelers has finished its mission in Rome and is on its way home. My guess is that they will be busy readjusting to the weather, the time, the adrenaline rush and the exhilaration of being part of such an important event. Thanks to those of you who have been following the blog and commenting. Hopefully, we'll hear more from Maggie and Michael, since they are coming straight home. Abie is making a short side trip, but we may hear from him, too.

What else are Xavier students up to? How are you striving towards being men and women for others?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blessing Exhibit link and video tour

Here is a link to the website for the Blessing Exhibit.

There is also a video tour

A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People

Here is a link to an article about the exhibit, "A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People" which opened at Xavier in 2005. The exhibit was created at Xavier and has traveled all over. It is now at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia.

WCPO Sees the Travelers Off

Tom McKee of WCPO TV, the Cincinnati ABC affiliate, was at the airport to send off Abie, Maggie and Michael. See the story here.
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Michael Asks The Question

Today, Dr. Art Shriberg gave a speaker introduction, and made a terrific joke that I will take liberty to share with you. He said that when he just started to work at Xavier University, he thought that SJ meant Slightly Jewish. What got to me is that he might be right. I know that SJ means Society of Jesus, but in a way we all are slightly Jewish, slightly Christian, slightly Muslim, slightly Buddhist. Probably some of the religious views that each of us has can be found in other religions. So are we all slightly interreligious? Then why is it so hard to engage in a dialogue, if most religions share the same values, teachings and have the same rights and wrongs?

As part of today’s session at the Northern American College there was an open floor discussion and anyone could get behind the podium and address the audience, and share their views. Listening to all these people I was amazed to see how much work all of them are doing to get people involved in a conversation. Maggie and I played it brave and took the stage. Below is a brief summary of our speech. Maggie also informed the audience about all the great programs and initiatives that are taking place on Xavier’s campus. I know that she will talk about this in her posting.

In between sessions, we shared a lunch with students at the Northern American College who are preparing to become priests. It was a great experience. Later in the evening we dropped coins in the Trevi Fountain to ensure that we come back.

From today’s presentation...

We often talk about starting a dialogue, but what is dialogue and how often does it happen? I often think of dialogue in the same way I think of friends: you only have few great ones. We call a lot of people our friends, when in reality we hope to have 2-3 great friends through our life. We often say that we engaged in a dialogue all the time, when in reality the dialogue that has a life-changing experience takes place only a couple times. Often, when we talk, we just try to persuade the other side to adopt our views. What happened to the authentic dialogue that was cherished so much by the ancient philosophers - did it get lost in agendas? The dialogue is not about trying to change the other side, it is about challenging your own views, taking in what others have to offer and using it to become wiser, to become a stronger, better character.

The hardest part about a dialogue is admitting to yourself that you might be wrong. But if you can’t let go of your dogmas, of your agendas, then you are not ready to engage in a conversation.

Every dialogue starts with a question. That being said, most of the questions that are asked daily are boring and stereotypical. Let’s take for example one of the most popular questions in the U.S.: What do you do? Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to ask: what is your gift to the society, what is your passion? But we do not want these questions, they are tough and we are not prepared to respond. The dialogue can start only when we learn to answer these questions or at least when we will not be afraid to approach them.

What question do you think would spark the dialogue worth having?

Thank you,

Monday, October 22, 2007

Maggie's First Rome Impressions

I don’t know how to say ‘holy smokes’ in Italian, but holy smokes! Roma e molto, molto bella! Last night and tonight we roamed around the city (no, mama not by myself!)…if Fontana di Trevi, Piazza di Spagna, Pantheon, or Piazza del Popolo are more beautiful in the sunlight than they are at nighttime, then I certainly cannot imagine it. As I sit here and try to get a few quick thoughts on paper with my glass of frescati, a man plays the piano and sings, and although I have no idea what his Italian words mean, surely he must be describing some kind of beauty.

There are dozens of thoughts I would like to write about, but I only have a few short minutes on the computer (I already spent about 5 of my 15 minutes reading about the Indians/BoSox games…I brought my Tribe shirt to Rome with me to wear during the World Series…regardless of the unfortunate outcome of the ALCS, I will still proudly wear it!)

With my short time, I will quickly share with all of you a few of the thoughts I shared today in our discussion. There are so many intelligent, passionate people here who have dedicated their lives to the work we are doing-I think that that in and of itself is such an inspiration. Being here, I am filled with this sense that I hope I find something I want to dedicate my life to, as so many of these wonderful people here have. They are truly changing their corners of the world.

Michael and I were both a little nervous when we got up to speak in front of all these extraordinary leaders today, but my thoughts were something like this-I don’t know a small fraction about the historical context of inter-religious dialogue that any other person here knows. In fact, until the past few months as I prepared for this trip, I can’t even say I really understood why the work I was a part of was so significant- it just seemed like a given. My reason for playing a part in this work was pretty simple …I was just trying to do my small part to be a good neighbor. Xavier does such a job at guiding its students to discover how to give of ourselves to others, and quite honestly I just thought our efforts in promoting inter-religious dialogue was just a small piece of this big puzzle of being loving, open-minded folks. I think we are taught at X that there should never be an “us” and a “them”….just an “us.” That being said, I am hopeful and faithful that much of my generation, regardless of what specific knowledge we have about any relationship or issue or circumstance, will still strive to quite simply be good neighbors to our brothers and sisters, like us or not, in all that we do.

The man at the piano stopped his Italian songs a couple of minutes ago and is now playing, “What a Wonderful World.” It reminds me of how my dad used to give his best Louis Armstrong rendition when I would play this same song on the piano when I was younger, and I am struck tonight by how fitting its words seem. I feel so blessed to be a part of this journey.