By Michael Rizzo
Brooklyn’s 12th Street Bar and Grill may not be the first place you think of when considering where to go for a discussion on Catholicism.
But the Park Slope pub was the latest venue where the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Office of Faith Formation held a Theology on Tap event with a presentation on church history.
The scholar on Monday night, Nov. 24, was Franciscan Brother Geoffrey P. Clement, a professor of medieval history at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, who spoke to about 20 people on Christian and Islamic relations in the Middle Ages.
“This is very relevant today,” he said before his lecture, which is the first he’s done for Theology on Tap. “This is a history which relatively few are fully aware of and with young people not coming to church as much anymore, this is a chance to go to them.”
Lucia Morales of St. Brigid’s parish, Bushwick, came with Sally Flores of St. Rose of Lima, Rockaway Beach. Both are in their 20s and have made Jornadas. Morales said it was the first time they attended this kind of event.
“I think it’s unconventional but progressive,” Morales said. “You can catch up with friends and still learn about your faith.”
Brother Clement’s lecture began at about 7:15 p.m. with the crowd in rapt attention on bar stools and at tables. As perhaps befitting a night focused on the Catholic faith, the TV sets in the bar were showing the basketball game between Villanova University, founded by the Order of St. Augustine, and Virginia Commonwealth. Villanova won.
Brother Clement spoke for more than 45 minutes on the history of Christians and Muslims from the seventh century through the 1400s. He expounded on the conflicts between the two religions as well as the positive aspects of their relationship in trade, culture and learning.
After his lecture, he opened the floor to questions and engaged the crowd for another 30 minutes on topics ranging from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which was a former church, then a mosque and now a museum, to more on the Crusades and the current state of affairs between Muslims and Christians.
“There have been many acts of barbarism by Christians and Muslims through the ages,” Brother Clement said, “but Europe and the West have changed. Some groups in the Mideast have not.”
Jonathan Richardson, from St. Paul the Apostle Church, Manhattan, said he would have liked to hear more about the Church’s stand today on such extremism but found the event rewarding nonetheless.
“Lots of Catholics are interested in the intellectual coherency of our doctrines,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn and this is a topic that shows the interaction that has occurred between Muslims, Christians and Jews.”
Erin Rother sat at the bar during the lecture. She’s a co-leader of the young adult group at nearby St. Saviour’s parish.
“When I got an email about the event, I came to support it,” she said. “Church is good but there could be other settings for Catholics to get together. Events like this attract people.”
Paul Morisi, coordinator of young adult faith formation for the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, uses social media to promote these events and sees them as ways for young adults to gather with their peers.
“I wanted Brother Clement to speak about something that young adults aren’t usually exposed to,” he said. “It may not be as glitzy as lectures on the Theology of the Body but Catholics need to know about their whole faith.”
“It was quite interesting,” Sally Flores said. ”Theology is about faith and both the Muslims and Christians were standing up for their faith, not just fighting but learning from each other.”
The Theology on Tap lectures will resume in 2015 with exact dates and locations to be announced.