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Social Reconciliation Conference to explore the history of peacebuilding, social repair and forgiveness in the Catholic tradition

A few years ago, researchers working near the south shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya uncovered dozens of broken, maimed and smashed human skeletons, evidence of a battle that took place 10,000 years ago, providing a harrowing genesis for humanity’s lust for violence.

From that time to today, people have gone to war, propagated conflict and sown discord in myriad ways. And yet, the species has, in that same time, been capable of some of the most tender and affectionate acts of charity, forgiveness, and peacemaking.

Sept. 28 and 29, Creighton University will host a conference with scholars from nine different institutions meditating on peacemaking and reconciliation, especially as those ideals are found in Roman Catholic history, traditions and sacraments.

“There’s a brokenness in our society that many theologians wrestle with spiritually and academically,” said Jay Carney, PhD, associate professor in Creighton’s Department of Theology and the organizer of the Social Reconciliation Conference. “This conference is a chance for us to come together and talk about both sides – conflict and violence in the Catholic tradition, but also past and present efforts toward reconciliation. We want the focus to be on what you can develop out of the historical tradition that could have a constructive impact on questions of peacebuilding in today’s world.”

This year’s conference is the second movement of the project. At this time last year, the 16 conference participants convened at the Creighton Retreat Center near Griswold, Iowa, to reflect on the conference’s main themes of limiting violence, peacemaking, building just societies, forgiveness, healing and implementing the sacraments as keystones for reconciliation.

“The retreat helped us build our own sense of community before we moved into the more formal research dimension,” Carney said.

The Rev. Robert J. Schreiter, CPPS, a priest and professor of systematic theology at the Catholic Theological Union with 17 books published on inculturation, world mission and reconciliation, will deliver the conference keynote Sept. 28 at 4:30 p.m., in the Harper Center, Room 3028.

In an address titled “Reconciliation, the Catholic Tradition and Political Polarization in the United States,” Fr. Schreiter will take on the fractious political and religious scene pervading American society and offer tools for peacebuilding and reconciliation.

The conference will also feature Creighton theologians John O’Keefe, PhD, Zachary Smith, PhD, Julia Fleming, PhD, Eileen Burke-Sullivan, STD, and H. Ashley Hall, PhD, along with scholars from Boston College, the University of Notre Dame, Emmanuel College, Santa Clara University, Loyola University-Maryland, DePaul University and the Maryknoll Fathers.

Scholars have focused their papers on an array of topics with case studies in various historical modes of reconciliation, including the sacrament of anointing during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Lutheran-Catholic Eucharistic sharing as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Catholic tradition of restitution, the ethics of mass incarceration, and the Church’s use of social networks in Peru during the political violence of the 1980s and 1990s.

“Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian vocation, and bringing reconciliation is one of the founding charisms of the Society of Jesus.” said Burke-Sullivan, Creighton’s vice provost for Mission and Ministry, who will deliver a paper on reconciliation in the Jesuit reductions of Latin America. “Historical events are not literal answers to contemporary questions, but give insights into the ways that communities have sought to establish peace or unity out of conflict and division in the past. Given the divisions and animosity we see in our country and across our world today, now seems like an especially poignant moment to consider what we can do to promote healing and justice and, using the spiritual and sacramental gifts given to us, increase the potential for peacemaking and reconciliation.”

Final papers will be published in book form with Paulist Press sometime in the next two years. Carney hopes this book will contribute to academic and pastoral conversations on reconciliation and forgiveness especially through its innovative engagement with the Catholic historical tradition.

“For better or worse, people have always been in conflict with one another,” Carney said. “But people have also been thinking about peacemaking and just societies. The scholars here are not naïve about the challenges that face us. But they’re also hoping that, in looking at history and talking about past wrongs and ways to move forward, we can make a noteworthy contribution.”

Sponsored by the Division of Mission and Ministry, the Barbara Reardon Heaney Chair in Pastoral Liturgical Theology, and the Center for Catholic Thought at Creighton, the conference is free and open to the public.

For a full conference program, click here.


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