The Reach of the Christian East Explored at L.A. Congress

Father Elias Mallon, S.A., special assistant to the president of CNEWA, is presenting two talks on the Christian East at the 2024 Religious Educators Congress in Los Angeles.

The Religious Educators Congress in Los Angeles offers attendees “a daring invitation to experience God’s unconditional love” through its 2024 theme, “Be Loved!” The congress, held at the Anaheim Convention Center, begins with Youth Day on 15 February and continues with adult sessions from 16-18 February.

“The programs were so good, the people … were leading figures in the field, and it was also a very good opportunity to meet with colleagues and share new ideas,” said Father Elias Mallon, S.A., referring to his previous experiences at the congress, which has drawn thousands of Catholic educators annually since it began in 1968.

Father Mallon, who serves as special assistant to the president of CNEWA, is presenting two talks during this year’s gathering. An expert on Middle East studies and Christian-Muslim dialogue, Father Mallon taught Old Testament at Washington Theological Union and American University, and Near Eastern languages at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Elias D. Mallon, S.A., left, special assistant to the presidant of CNEWA, presents at the Parliament of the World’s Religions alongside Sayyid Mohammad Baqir al-Kashmiri, right, the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani. (photo: Deirdre O’Brien/CNEWA)

He will give his first talk, “Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Mesopotamia,” on 17 February in the first afternoon workshop session.

His goal is to address the misconceptions surrounding the presence and history of Christianity in the East and how it is understood by the West.

“All along, they were a church that looked toward the East,” he said.

To emphasize the extent to which the history in the East is unknown, he said there was an Eastern Syriac Christian presence in China 1,000 years before Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary who is often considered the first to bring Christianity to Asia.

“We’re so unaware of it that it is a severe impoverishment of Western Christianity that they’re not familiar with the Church of the East,” said Father Mallon. “These people provide another insight into the rich diversity of Christianity.”

His second talk, to be held on 18 February in the first afternoon workshop session, is titled “Biblical ‘Geography’ and the Modern World.”

Through his deconstruction of biblical names and places, Father Mallon will encourage people to think more critically about their understanding of the biblical world and where that understanding comes from. He noted that many Catholics primarily encounter readings from the Bible in church, which leads to much of the Bible going unread or unlearned. He cautions Catholics to “be very careful when you start using arguments from the Bible.”

Father Mallon sees his participation in the annual congress as an opportunity to give back to CNEWA’s audience through education.

“There’s a whole other world out there to introduce and educate people,” he said.

Register as an individual or a group through 18 February, or register on-site any day of the conference. Tickets are $85.

Olivia Poust is assistant editor of ONE.

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