My experience of interreligious dialogue

by Sr Anna Bodzińska

“What a joy it was when I was told, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps 122 (121))

I have always been connected with the Church. When I felt the desire to know God better, I decided to start studying theology at the UKSW University in Warsaw. At that time, I participated in retreats organised by the student chaplaincy in the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. This gave rise to many important questions about God’s presence in the world, the Shoah, my life and the religious vocation.

It was also the time of the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was the bloodiest armed conflict in Europe since the end of the Second World War. In the former Yugoslavia, Muslim and Christian believers killed each other in the name of religion. Earlier, some retreat time in Taizé, an ecumenical village in France, had strengthened my sense of the importance of dialogue between Christians and between different religions. I felt that God was calling me to dedicate myself entirely to Him on this path of dialogue.

God was calling me to dedicate myself entirely to Him on this path of dialogue

It remained for me to search for a religious congregation in Poland whose aim would be to cultivate mutual relations with Judaism. It was already clear to me that as Christians we are spiritually united to the heritage of the faith of Abraham and that we are nourished by the root of the well-cultivated olive tree to which we were grafted as “wild shoots, the Gentiles” (cf. Nostra Aetate no. 4) To my great surprise, I did not find a congregation expressly dedicated to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue in Poland. So I decided to look outside the country. The address of the sisters of Our Lady of Sion came to me from Jerusalem in 1991. The first letters were exchanged, as well as a first meeting and then the decision: “This is where God is calling me.”

In May 1996, I left for a house of NDS sisters in France, and there I began to discover and deepen what is called the charism of the sisters of Our Lady of Sion. I got to know that it is a very beautiful and unique vocation, but it is also demanding, which, as Father Ratisbonne pointed out, requires much prayer.

After making my first profession and completing theological and biblical studies, the Congregation allowed me to found an NDS house in Poland with another sister. From September 2004, we set about forging relations with intellectuals and the Church in Krakow. Cardinal Franciszek Macharski had lived through the conflict of the Carmelites in Auschwitz, which damaged relations between the Jews and the Catholic Church; he invited us to his archdiocese, because he realised that our presence in Poland would be “very necessary”.

Studying Judaism has also deepened my experience of faith

I threw myself into many forms of interfaith work: Bible meetings in preparation for the Sunday Eucharist, in which we also examine Jewish thought and theology; catechesis for school students; running retreats and taking part in initiatives on the theme of interfaith dialogue; membership of Jewish-Christian, inter-religious and ecumenical organisations.

Studying Judaism has also deepened my experience of faith and opened me up to respect for the Word and the Jewish people, who, for centuries, have constantly carried this Word, protected it and, in interpreting it, discovered its deepest meanings. I pass on what I learn through introductory courses on Judaism and the basics of the Hebrew language.

It is possible to glorify the One God together

Through local, national and international organisations I try to participate in Jewish-Christian relations in Poland and in the world. Every time, I am happy to be able to share my experiences of dialogue in the international forum, be it in Toronto during Holocaust Education Week, or at a meeting in Paris organised by Amitié Judéo-Chrétienne, or helping my sisters in Biblical programmes at Ecce Homo, in Jerusalem. These are all ways for me to reach people’s hearts so that their faith can grow and deepen on the solid foundations of the Word and “draw sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree” (cf. Nostra Aetate no. 4).

I keep alive my own personal relations with people of different religious confessions in many ways, such as: working in the Sion school in Türkiye where I can get closer to the Muslim world; and leading Bible retreats with members of Jewish communities or with other Christians of different denominations. I am active every year in events of the Polish Catholic Church’s Day of Judaism, where and I am always happy to be able to share my joy and experience in discovering our common spiritual roots.

And finally, a very personal confession. I had a dream: during my perpetual vows in Krakow in 2006 I wished for Stanisław Krajewski, a practising Jew and friend of Sion, to sing Psalm 122 in Hebrew. And it happened. It was a great joy for me, and a testimony that it is possible to glorify the One God together.