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Christology after the Shoah

19/09/2013: Poland

Twenty nine Sisters, Brothers and Friends/Associates gathered in Oswiecim, a Polish town which was renamed Auschwitz when it came under the direct rule of the Nazi regime in Germany in 1940. The town which is so beautiful and surrounded by forests was to become a place of horror for millions. 

The group came from 18 different countries and worked in four languages: Portuguese, Spanish, French and English. We gathered on the evening of Saturday May 4th to begin a journey together. A journey into the heart of Christian Theology! An exploration of Christology in light of the evil perpetrated at Auschwitz, an examination of how our words about Jesus must be more humble because our triumphalistic past had contributed to a situation where such evil was possible. 

We began by briefly sharing the reality in our home countries regarding J/C Relations and Shoah memorial and study. On Sunday afternoon we visited the camp at Auschwitz and Auschwitz 11- Birkenau. Auschwitz was a camp and in 1939 the first prisoners were sent there, they were Polish political prisoners. We walked past the railway station where they disembarked. We continued on to the entrance area and then, after meeting our wonderful guide we enter under the ominous words: Work will make you Free. 

The camp remains much as it was more than 70 years ago; yet many trees grow there now and at this time of year the trees are a fresh green and soften the harsh reality of the camp. Some of the blocks are now used to display records and to tell the story. One display which is very striking is a chamber of hair, the hair of women and men who were either en-route to death or for some already dead. Many women take such pride in their hair and yet here it was harvested to be used in cushioning furniture etc. It took us close to those women, to their fear, their humiliation and their manipulation. It also particularized the evil present in this place; the potential for evil in us and in others; the meticulous way in which the Nazi regime used all the resources they could harvest from the inmates; their labour, their skills, their goods, their gold teeth and even their hair. 

Our guide helped us understand the complexity of this place; a place of imprisonment, torture and death for many Polish political prisoners; a place of death for Russian prisoners of war; a place of work for many Jewish people deported here and then in 1942 a place for the Final Solution: the extermination of Jews. 

We were reminded that the Nazi’s planned to exterminate all Jews, Romani (Gypsies), handicapped and homosexuals. A Polish guide reminded us that if they had succeeded that later it would have been Poles used as free labour and then they too would have been exterminated.  

In this context we set about examining our Christology! 

Didier Pollefeyt gave three wonderful papers on: Christian Anthropology; Christology and God and Evil. 

We visited Krakow, its pre-war Jewish quarter and some of its present day beauty.

Peter Admirand gave papers on the Shoah in the context of other mass atrocities, Christology in relation to victims of atrocities, Jewish-Christian dialogue in the light of Christology after the Shoah and a   proposal for a viable theodicy.  

We worked in groups according to interest/ministry and together we formulated our recommendations. 


Recommendations of the Participants

I. Recommendation to the Congregational Leadership Teams of the Sisters and Religious of Sion:

That the two NDS Congregations organise a second Christology session in 2015: 

a) Aims:  

To facilitate the further development of the articulation of a post-Shoah Christology that is humble, empowering and open. 

Make this an occasion for the Congregations to listen, learn, and disseminate their findings.

Pursue this aim with some attention to continuity with the work done in the 2013 session.

b) Participants:NDS Sisters, Brothers, Associates/Friends of Sion with resource people.

c) Proposed “Outcomes”: 

The two NDS Congregations will share with communities and Associates/Friends of Sion whatever resources of the session can be made available. 

Some papers from the session might be available for publication to foster this approach to Christology in the wider theological community.

Speakers might be videoed and those presentations might be sent to a select group of participants for their reflection and response. 

Other outcomes can be determined by the session organisers. 


II. Recommendations to Groups of Communities 

A. Ongoing Formation: That all members of both NDS Congregations find ways to pursue their own ongoing formation in three areas that are    particularly important for our charism:    

 a) Biblical study and interpretation: In doing biblical study, we make use of resources from Jewish tradition and if possible learn some Hebrew. A weekly study and sharing of the Parashah is recommended to local    houses/communities.   

 b)  A particular study of textsrelevant to Christology using both Jewish and Christian traditions e.g. the Prologue of the Gospel according to John in relation to Proverbs 8 and Sirach 24.

 c) Christology: Groups of sisters/brothers or groups of communities engage in a study of Christology after the Shoah through sharing articles or books.

B. Liturgy: That we give particular attention to the liturgy of Holy Week, in the light of our charism and  that, where possible, we offer input for the celebrations of Holy Week in our local contexts.  


III.Recommendations For the International Schools’ Team 

Schools that bear the name of Sion are privileged places for education in the

 charism of Sion for teachers and young people, as well as their families. 

A. On-going Formation for Teachers: Develop a working group to ensure con    tinuing formation of our teachers in the Charism of Sion.  In the light of a study of the Shoah we wish to rediscover an affirmation of life and the values that are essential to being truly and fully human. The following recommendations concerning ADULT EDUCATION will also be relevant to the formation of teachers.  

B. Resources: Survey the materials used in schools for religious education and catechesis to ensure they are faithful to the orientations of Nostra Aetate, and add new resources each year. Ensure that the teachers know of the           availability of these. 

Yom HaShoahis a significant occasion for drawing attention to the meaning of the Shoah. Reflection on the Shoah can help us to understand the importance of Jerusalem and Israel for the Jewish people today, and the centrality of Jerusalem for the charism of Sion.  Encourage use of various art forms (music, poetry, drama, painting, etc.) in working with these themes. 


IV. Recommendations for those involved in ADULT EDUCATION /      FORMATION:

A. Our Own Ongoing Formation as Educators of Adults: For those engaged in this apostolic ministry, it is essential to give attention to our own ongoing formation on the issues and questions related to our charism in Adult Education today and, as much as possible, to ensure the same for those who work with us. In each regional or local situation where we are, seek appropriate means to develop this commitment with others, aware that the future depends on the ministry we offer today.

B. The Importance of Context – Contemporary, Biblical, Historical, Theological -- in Adult Education: The adult education process should be characterized by the person’s life context and previous experience. Likewise, the education that we offer seeks to instill an understanding of the importance of, for example: (i) reading biblical texts in their contexts, (ii) presenting Jesus within the experience and culture of his people, (iii) taking into account the influence of the experience of the Early Church on the New Testament writings, (iv) situating the early Christologies in the historical and theological contexts of the first four centuries of the Church. We recognize and seek to respond to the need for ongoing creative work in this field.     

C. Developing and Sharing Resources: Encourage the sharing of helpful resources among those working in this field.  Nostra Aetateand subsequent Church documents are significant resources. 


1. Gisa Fonseca
2. Joselia Oliveira de Maria
3. Judite  Mayer
4. Maria Cecilia Tostes Malta          
5. Maria Cecilia Piccoli (Associate)
6. Jose Maria Leite – Father of Sion
7. Dina Estela Argueta
8. Manuela Choc
9. Donizete Ribeiro – Father of Sion
10. Anne-Christine (Robert)
11. Dominique de La Maisonneuve
12. Louise Marie Niesz
13. Michele Debrouwer
14. Therese Dominique (Faucheux)
15. Bernadette Lynch
16. Diane Willey
17. Maureena Fritz
18. Aracely Medina
19. Darlene de Mong
20. Ecaterina Bogdan
21. Iuliana Neculai
22. Audrey Gerwing  
23. Jocelyn Monette
24. Margaret Shepherd
25. Teresa Brittain
26. Fr Mark Reynolds (Associate)
27. Mary Reaburn
28. Marge Zdunich
29. Clare Jardine 

Resource people:

Speakers:  Professor Didier Pollefeyt, University of Leuven, Belgium.
Dr Peter Admirand, University of Dublin, Republic of Ireland 

Translators: Filipa Costa – English to Portuguese
Claudette Lemyre – English to French
Helena Sancho Idoate – English to Spanish
Auschwitz, Poland

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