Boone parishioner promotes religious dialogue
BOONE — Dr. Maria Lichtmann has had the opportunity to travel the world helping to promote dialogue between peoples of different faiths. Now, a Catholic retreat center on the island of Bali is waiting for this member of St. Elizabeth Church in Boone to return. Lichtmann left there in 2011, but retreat leaders have extended an invitation for her to return.
Lichtmann earned a doctorate in religious studies from Yale University. But her interest in religious dialogue began long before that, as she was the child of a holocaust survivor. When she taught at Berea College in the 1990s, Lichtmann helped to organize an interfaith dialogue. She was able to travel throughout the U.S. – to places such as a Buddhist monastery in Kentucky and an Islamic Center in Ohio – introducing her students to other faith traditions.
Opportunities soon came to take her research outside the U.S. In 2004, she was able, through a Fulbright Award, to go to Bosnia and Herzegovina and work at the University of Sarajevo. She saw the devastation that a lack of dialogue between two faith backgrounds can bring.
After her research in Bosnia, Lichtmann wanted to visit Asia, to research the local Muslim culture and customs. She was awarded another Fulbright Scholarship to study in Indonesia, then was assigned to Muhammadiyah University in Java.
Indonesia was very similar to Bosnia: she saw a lack of dialogue between the Christian and Muslim populations, Lichtmann says. Even though Indonesia's motto is "Unity through Diversity," she says, she did not see much openness between the different religious communities. One person even told her that "all other religions but Islam come from Satan." So, in a country that is 90-97 percent Muslim and has six government-recognized religions, Lichtmann says, she tried to bring people together in a religious dialogue by introducing her students to other world religions – for example, to Christianity through the Gospel of Luke.
While in Indonesia, Lichtmann had the opportunity to meet Father Joseph Gerungan, a Carmelite priest. They met in person on retreat in January and she joined his Holy Week tour of Catholic Flores during Easter in 2011. During her stay in Indonesia, she was asked by the law faculty to give a talk on human rights and Christianity. After her talk, she heard stories from local Muslims about the violence they had personally seen between Christians and Muslims.
After her Fulbright stay ended, Father Gerungan extended her an invitation to come back and be a lay Catholic presence at his retreat center in Bali and his "satellite" retreat center in Ubud. The retreat center has a chapel, a Marian grotto, a library, a kitchen and cottages.
She hopes she will be available to go via a Fulbright Specialist Grant. Right now, she says, she is waiting for word from Indonesia that her grant has been approved there.
Read more about Dr. Maria's Lichtmann's travels in Indonesia: fulbrightinindonesia.blogspot.com.
— Amber Mellon, correspondent
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