The students and administration of the Theologisches Studienjahr Jerusalem, (Jerusalem School of Theology), who are currently residing and studying at Sant’Anselmo during their Covid-induced “exile” from Jerusalem, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on 18 December. Fr. Nikodemus Schnabel OSB, prefect, and Prof. Johanna Erzberger, dean of the program, organised the visit, which came from a whimsical idea of their students.

Fr. Nikodemus explains: “When we hold our regular studies in Jerusalem, I am in charge of organising the visits to the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Latin Patriarchates and the other hierarchs of the different churches. Last October, our group had the good fortune to receive a visit from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, H.B. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa O.F.M., here at Sant’Anselmo. Afterward, the students joked that it would be great if they could now visit the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. So I began investigating, making phone calls and trying to make it work. I thought that especially now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis may not be receiving as many people as he normally would, and that he would have more time for an audience with us.

“So, on the 18 December, in the late morning, we found ourselves honoured to have an audience with the Pope! I was expecting just a small gathering, but the Vatican decided to make it very official and call in a camera team and write a speech, translate the speech from Italian into English, Spanish and German, and then post it on the web site. I was quite surprised, but I think it succeeded both because of our association and affiliation with Sant’Anselmo – Abbot Primate Gregory Polan as Grand Chancellor of our program, as well Rector Bernhard A. Eckerstorfer and Prior Mauritius Wilde, who accompanied us – and because our program is related to his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, which addresses exactly what our program is about: Dialogue. Our program features Lutheran, Catholic and Reformed students in dialogue with Judaism, Islam and non-believers.”

Fr. Nikodemus is a monk of Dormition Abbey, which founded the Theologisches Studienjahr Jerusalem and from where it is normally based. Fr. Laurentius Klein of Dormition Abbey, who founded the program in 1973, believed that one should study the Bible in the land of the Bible. As Klein put it, “Just as students of forestry have to do internships in the forest, so theologians should study the Bible in the land of the Bible”.

The Laurentius Klein Chair of the program, Dean Johanna Erzberger, notes that the students study a wide range of topics surrounding the Bible, including archeology, ecumenism, eastern churches, Judaism and Islam. “Obviously, in Jerusalem”, she said, “we have immediate access to all of these things”. and went on to add, “Also, given the special German history, we focus from the very beginning on the dialogue between Christians and Jews. We think it’s very important to give each new generation insight into the ecumenical aspects of this relationship as well as into the dialogue with Islam, with political thinking and non-believers”.

The Theologisches Studienjahr Jerusalem program is academically part of Ateneo Sant’Anselmo’s Faculty of Theology, and since it had to be held from September to December directly at Sant’Anselmo, the ties between both institutions could be strengthened.

Photos courtesy of Theologisches Studienjahr Jerusalem, Rector P. Bernhard A. Eckerstorfer and Lisa Bunoza

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