(Vatican Radio) Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem this year marks the 50th anniversary of its establishment in the wake of Pope Paul VI’s historic visit to the Holy Land.
Offering a wide variety of conferences, study programmes and research opportunities, the institute aims to promote ecumenical and interfaith understanding among people from all religious backgrounds. It also provides a base from which to explore the places connected to the Old and New Testaments, while learning something of the complex political realities of the Holy Land today.
Philippa Hitchen is visiting Tantur this week to report on its achievements and its future vision:
Listen to her report:
The word ‘Tantur’ is Arabic for hilltop and the geography of this unique ecumenical institute clearly illustrates its mission to be a place of encounter between Christians, Muslims and Jews. It is located on a hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem, overlooking Bethlehem to the south and another Palestinian town, Beit Safafa, to the north. From the roof of the main building you can easily pick out the bell tower of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity rising behind the Israeli separation barrier that snakes across the landscape dividing Israel from the West Bank.
To the east and west lie two Jewish settlements, Har Homa and Gilo, with Tantur situated right at the crossroads. Before the separation barrier was built in 2005, many Bethlehem residents, heading to work in Jerusalem, would cut through the grounds of the institute, which is owned by the Vatican and run by the U.S. University of Notre Dame, in order to avoid Israeli checkpoints on the Hebron Road.
Now it is much harder for Palestinians in the West Bank to get to Jerusalem, with permits mostly being issued around the time of the different religious festivities. Yet Tantur still sees its mission as one of patiently building bridges and trying to bring people together across the different faith communities. The current rector, Holy Cross Father Russ McDougall, says it remains one of the few places where “both Palestinians and Israelis feel safe coming together for dialogue.”
On the day I arrived, a group of young students from the interfaith youth network ‘Kids 4 Peace’ was meeting there and many other local peace groups use the facility as a safe space in which to build relations between people who otherwise live increasingly segregated lives.
Founded half a century ago, following Pope Paul VI’s historic embrace of the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagorus, which ended centuries of estrangement between Catholics and Orthodox, Tantur continues that work of reconciliation and encounter today. Amid an increasingly bleak political landscape, it remains true to its original mission as a hilltop oasis of hospitality and welcome.