Jesuit Scholar Appointed Consultor To Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

China
2007-11-21 00:00:00

French Jesuit scholar Father Benoit Vermander, who researches religion and culture, has been appointed a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Father Vermander, 47, director of the Jesuit-run Taipei Ricci Institute, told UCA News via e-mail Nov. 21 that the appointment, which by Pope Benedict XVI made the previous day, "came as a total surprise."

Nonetheless, he rejoiced at "the possibility to contribute modestly" to "interreligious dialogue for peace and cooperation on the challenges that the world confronts," which he identified as "one of the greatest challenges of this time."

According to the missioner, who is also editor of his institute´s Renlai magazine, religions help humankind redefine its future.

He believes that interaction between religions results in a form of "spiritual empowerment," a way of helping people "go on their spiritual journey and become enlightened decision-makers, able to create a difference in their environments."

Renlai, a Chinese-language monthly on social, cultural and spiritual issues, received two awards from the Taiwan government in 2005.

Father Vermander said that for the last 15 years he has interacted with people in mainland China and Taiwan, many of whom follow Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist or local religious traditions, in his fieldwork and seminars he organized. Seminar topics have included environment and development, contemporary art and spirituality, and harmony between East and West.

He noted that Renlai continues to provide resources for analyzing today´s world from a pluralistic and humanistic perspective.

"I especially value my fieldwork on Liangshan Yi religion in Sichuan province, which has put me in contact with local religions in minority areas," the priest said. He researched the folklore and culture of the Yi ethnic minority in Sichuan, southwestern China, in the mid-1990s.

Father Vermander has headed the Taipei Ricci Institute since 1996, organizing dialogue and other sessions within the Chinese world on topics such as cultural diversity, sustainable development and spiritual empowerment.

On Oct. 24, he and his editorial team presented to the pope a copy of the Grand Ricci, the largest-ever Chinese-French encyclopedic dictionary, published by the Ricci Institute in 2002, and a copy of Renlai.

According to the Nov. 11 issue of Taipei archdiocese´s Catholic Life Weekly, the pope praised the compilation of the dictionary. Jesuits in Taiwan started work on the tome in 1951.

Father Vermander, who has a master´s degree from Yale University in the United states and a doctorate in political science from Paris University, is also interested in Chinese culture, art, calligraphy, poetry, writing and evangelization. In 1993, he studied Chinese calligraphy in Taiwan. In 1994, he studied Chinese art in Sichuan, on the mainland.

Apart from the Taipei Ricci Institute, there are three other Ricci Institutes -- in Paris, Macau and San Francisco, the United States.

END

(Accompanying photos available at here)

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