From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Aramaic language provides insight into Gospels

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the March 20, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

About 20 or so people filled the basement meeting room at St. Joseph Family Center in Spokane Feb. 20. They had come to take part in an interfaith day of prayer guided by Dominican Brother Joseph Kilikevice of Shem Center in Oak Park, Ill.

The day of prayer was titled “Understanding the Word of Jesus in a New Way.” The “new way” of the title was the Aramaic language, the everyday language used by Jesus and his contemporaries.

Participants learned the Aramaic words to several of the Beatitudes, some phrases of the Our Father and also the “I Am” sayings of Jesus. They used the Aramaic words of the second Beatitude as a chant with dance. The second Beatitude in Aramaic is Tubwayhun lawile d’hinnon netbayun. In the New American Bible, the second Beatitude reads “Blessed are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled.”

The Aramaic language workshop and dance held at St. Joseph is one of many different interfaith events promoted by Shem Center. Brother Joseph founded Shem Center during the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1993. His vision was to provide a place for people of all faith traditions (and also for those with no spiritual home), offering hospitality and studying the truth of each. He explained that Shem is an Aramaic word expressing the radiance, splendor and beauty of the Creator found in all people and all of creation.

On the center’s logo are the words: “With hospitable hearts, those different from ourselves are held in esteem. Our mission, ‘Creating a Sacred Space for All.’”

Brother Joseph said Shem Center claims historical roots in the mandate of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI wrote, “Religions found everywhere strive in different ways to answer the restless searchings of the human hear by proposing ‘ways,’ which consist of teachings, rules of life, and sacred ceremonies.

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. The Church exhorts her members to prudently and lovingly dialogue and collaborate with the followers of other religions” (“Declaration of the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” Oct. 28, 1965).

Brother Joseph, a native of the Chicago area, has been a Dominican Brother since 1955, he said. “That was back in the days when we joined young.” His interest “has always been spirituality. How does one journey to God? How does one experience that?”

His own journey, especially in founding Shem Center, has been “filled with many surprises. I would have plan A, B, and C, and God would choose plan Z. Much of what I do is trust God to do what he wants and flow with what is asked and what is needed.”

St. Joseph Family Center and Baraka, the local Sufi community, co-sponsored Brother Joseph’s visit. Baraka had arranged Brother Joseph’s trips for the men’s interfaith retreats and approached the Family Center about the day-long prayer experience and dance.

The day of prayer “was a wonderful opportunity,” said Cliff Evans, St. Joseph’s community relations coordinator. “It was very interfaith and yet true to our Catholic roots. It helped us in living out the meaning of the word ‘catholic.’”

Brother Joseph said he is often asked how he can do this work and remain Catholic. “I run into many Catholics who have never heard (the words of Pope Paul VI). They are hearing of them for the first time. But we don’t have to give up our own faith tradition to benefit from others’ wisdom.”

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