Larchmont native named bishop of Allentown

A Westchester native has been chosen the next Roman Catholic bishop of Allentown, Penn.

Monsignor John O. Barres, currently chancellor of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., will be ordained a bishop and installed as Allentown’s fourth boss on July 30.

Barres grew up in Larchmont.

In our digital library, I found this note from Oct. 21, 1989:

“ORDINATION: The Rev. John Barres, son of Oliver and Marjorie Barres, parishioners of St. Augustine’s Church, 18 Cherry Ave., is to be ordained today in Wilmington, Delaware. He is to celebrate his first Mass at St. Augustine’s tomorrow at 12 noon. A reception will follow in the school auditorium.”

That’s St. Augustine’s in Larchmont.

According to, he was born in Port Chester, probably at the now closed United Hospital.

According to Delaware Online, Barres’ parents were both Protestant ministers who met at Yale Divinity School and became Catholics in 1955. His parents later worked for the famous Bishop Fulton Sheen — who baptized young John.

What a story.

By all accounts, Barres is a cerebral fellow — a theologian with a master’s in business administration — who will be missed in Delaware.

It sounds like Barres, 48, will have to re-energize a diocese that has been dealing with parish closings.

”I have no blueprint,” he said. ”I am opening myself to the Holy Spirit.”

Photo: AP/Joe Gill

A week of prayer for religious friendship?

We already have the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, started and promoted by the Graymoor Friars.

Now we may — may — get some sort of annual week when religious leaders would highlight the good in other religious traditions.

I just watched the concluding press conference from the Muslim/Christian conference at Yale, and one of the goals coming out of it is to start such a week.

“I think it could have significant implications and repercussions,” said Ibrahim Kalin, an assistant professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, who introduced the idea at the press conference.

It won’t happen overnight.

“If it is going to be formalized, will have to be taken to a higher level, an international body like the United Nations, perhaps,” Kalin said.

volf.jpgOtherwise, in wrapping things up, Kalin and Yale theologian Miroslav Volf agreed that the conference accomplished what it could. More than 150 religious leaders from around the world came to talk and get to know one another. Over the next year or so, they’ll do it again at Cambridge University, the Vatican, Georgetown U and in Jordan.

“In the exercise of talking about love of God and love of neighbor, we practiced love of God and love of neighbor,” Volf said (that’s him).

He added: “We have never come close to anything like blows.”

‘…to ensure that religions heal rather than wound…’

Christian and Muslim leaders at the big interfaith conference at Yale have just released a concluding statement.

No real surprises. The last point, though, about “threats” made against interfaith participants in general, is quite interesting.

The statement:

A Common Word — an open letter addressed by Muslim leaders to Christian leaders — began with a desire by Muslim leaders to follow the Qur’anic commandment to speak to Christians and Jews, Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him. (3:64) The intention behind A Common Word is not to foist the theology of one religion upon another or to attempt conversion. Neither does it seek to reduce both our religions to an artificial union based upon the Two Commandments.

Nevertheless, in A Common Word, Muslims recognized that Islam and Christianity do share an essential common ground: the love of God and love of the neighbor described in the Two Greatest Commandments of the Gospel, rooted in the Torah ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The response of over 500 Christian leaders initiated by Yale University reaffirmed that this common ground is real and is a basis for dialogue between our two religions.

A Common Word is rooted in our sacred texts, arising from within, not imposed from without. Love of God and love of the neighbor are part of our common Abrahamic heritage. Based upon this principle, ours is an effort to ensure that religions heal rather than wound, nourish the human soul rather than poison human relations. These Two Commandments teach us both what we must demand of ourselves and what we should expect from the other in what we do, what we say, and what we are.

Participants in the conference discussed a range of theological and practical issues in an open manner characterized by honesty and good will. The theological issues discussed included different understandings of the Unity of God, of Jesus Christ and his passion, and of the love of God. The
practical issues included world poverty, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Palestine and Israel, the dangers of further wars, and the freedom of religion.

Participants of the conference agreed that:

1. Muslims and Christians affirm the unity and absoluteness of God. We recognize that God’s merciful love is infinite, eternal and embraces all things. This love is central to both our religions and is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic heritage.

2. We recognize that all human beings have the right to the preservation of life, religion, property, intellect, and dignity. No Muslim or Christian should deny the other these rights, nor should they tolerate the denigration or desecration of one another’s sacred symbols, founding figures, or places
of worship.

3. We are committed to these principles and to furthering them through continuous dialogue. We thank God for bringing us together in this historic endeavor and ask that He purify our intentions and grant us success through His all-encompassing Mercy and Love.

4. We Christian and Muslim participants meeting together at Yale for the historic A Common Word conference denounce and deplore threats made against those who engage in interfaith dialogue. Dialogue is not a departure from faith; it is a legitimate means of expression and an essential tool in the quest for the common good.

The fine line between religion and politics

AND STILL IN NEW HAVEN — After a day of theological talk about love — and few political statements — the Palestinian chief justice, Shaykh Tayseer Rajab Al-Tamimi, turned up the heat.

He started off repeating some of the day’s main themes: that religious authority should be used to bring people together and not worsen divisions.

But then he gave the kind of political examples (from his point of view) that others had stayed away from.

He said that there was interfaith peace in the Holy Land “until the Zionist-Israeli occupation started in our land.”

He said that Jerusalem is the “scene of the most horrible genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

“The problem is not with religions,” he said, “but with those who function in those religions to achieve their own interests, political interests or expansionist interests.”

I don’t think he was talking about the resurgent Taliban.

I’m not sure if there were any rabbis in the audience at that point, but no one commented on Al-Tamimi’s points.

After he was done, another Muslim scholar stood to complain that an earlier speaker had ignored numerous persecutions against Muslims.

In the day’s final moments, all the talk about love was taken over by talk about…other things.

The conference continues tomorrow. There will be panel discussions on “love and speech” and “love and world poverty.”

I won’t be back, though, as much as I would love to hang around the Yale campus all week…

Major Muslim/Christian conference set at Yale: ‘Loving God and Neighbor’

I’ve blogged a few times in the past about a letter signed by 138 Muslim scholars calling for a new era of understanding between Muslims and Christians.

The letter — called A Common Word Between Us and You (no, it doesn’t sing) — provoked some very positive responses from Christian leaders. The Vatican invited several of the Muslim signees for a visit and ongoing dialogue. The Archbishop of Canterbury and others reacted with great enthusiasm.

In addition, a group of scholars at Yale University wrote a thoughtful and affirmative response. An ensuing dialogue led to what will be a major gathering of Muslim and Christian leaders at Yale later this month.

The theme of the conference: “Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims.” It will bring together about 60 Muslim scholars (mostly from the Midde East), about 60 Christians and several Jewish observers.

txtbanner2.gifAccording to a statement: “…we have set as our goal the exploration of ways in which the common commitments can help rectify distorted perspectives Muslims and Christians have of each other and repair relations between the Middle East and the West. If Muslims and Christians, who together comprise more than half the world’s population, can acknowledge mutual commitment to loving God and loving neighbor the boost to a dynamic and peaceful interdependence in our globalized world would be immense.”

Could make for some lively discussions.

Over the next year or so, similar gatherings will be held at Cambridge University, the Vatican, Georgetown University and in Jordan.