Fr. Roger Schroeder, SVD
Interreligious Dialogue at an Indonesian Muslim University
From the time I was twelve years old, I dreamed of being a “bush missionary.” I actually fulfilled my dream by working with villagers of Papua New Guinea as a Divine Word Missionary for five years (1975–1977, 1980–1983). However, I was asked by our Divine Word superiors to do further studies to be qualified for work in higher education. I then spent another five years getting licentiate and doctorate degrees at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in the field of missiology (mission studies).
For the past twenty years, I have been teaching at Catholic Theological Union at Chicago (CTU), the largest Catholic graduate school of theology in the United States. Although I had to adjust my childhood image of what it meant for me to be missionary, I have come to see how I continue to be a missionary through my teaching and writing. Over these years, I have taught and mentored many men and women preparing to serve God’s mission in the Church and in the world—laity, seminarians, priests, Brothers, and sisters; physicians, lawyers, homemakers, social
workers, and teachers; Catholics, Protestants, and Pentecostals. My students are working within and outside the United States. And since 2002, we have some Muslim students at CTU. Let me tell you a fascinating story about one of them.
In 2007, Dr. Syafa’atun (Syafa) Almirzanah of Indonesia became the first Muslim woman to graduate from CTU by earning a doctor of ministry degree (along with a second doctorate from the Lutheran School of Theology). She studied at a Catholic school so that she could better understand and appreciate Christianity and help other Muslims to do the same. Building bridges of respect and understanding among the followers of other religions is also a part of God’s mission of love. During her time of studies at CTU, Syafa with her teenage son often visited the Divine Word Theologate community in Chicago, especially to meet the Indonesian Divine Word Missionaries in residence.
When Syafa heard that I would be traveling and speaking in her country during part of my sabbatical from CTU, she invited me to give a lecture at the Muslim university where she now teaches and is the director of academic affairs. Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University is in Yogyakarta, the major university city of Indonesia on the island of Java. In response to this invitation, I gave a lecture on “Developments of the Catholic Church Understanding of Interreligious Dialogue” to approximately 450 Muslim graduate students. An engaging, respectful, and straightforward question-and-answer period with the students followed. A week after I gave this lecture, Syafa was going to be speaking about interreligious dialogue from a Muslim perspective to a group of Christians in Indonesia. We were building bridges from both sides!
I felt privileged to receive this invitation to speak on interreligious dialogue in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, and at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, which is noted for its openness to such dialogue. This opportunity was possible through my missionary work of teaching at CTU and the relationship of trust developed between the Divine Word Missionaries and Syafa. Being a “bush missionary” is one way of being part of God’s mission, and being a teacher in higher education is another important way of doing this!