Click here to view in a gallery.
GOSHEN -- What kind of gift do you give the pope?
It's not a question most people face. But last month Goshen College professor John Roth was looking for the answer.
Larry Miller, general secretary of the Mennonite World Council, asked Roth what kind of gift a group of Mennonites scheduled to meet with the pope might give. After giving it some thought, Roth contributed two of his own possessions: a painting of the Anabaptist martyr, Dirk Willems, and a German edition of the Martyr's Mirror.
Last month, Mennonites from 10 countries traveled to Rome to continue peacemaking discussions between Catholics and Mennonites. The visit included a brief visit with Pope Benedict.
The trip came after a five-year dialogue that took place from 1998 to 2003. In that time, Catholics and Mennonites addressed the turbulent history between the two denominations, Roth said.
In the 16th century, Catholics and other denominations persecuted Mennonites after advocating separation from the state, and rejected practices such as infant baptism, Roth said.
In the mid-1990s, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity sought to open a discussion to address the painful history between the denominations. This led to the beginning of the five-year dialogue in 1998, and ultimately culminated in a 48-page report, "Called Together to be Peacemakers," Roth said.
At that point, a quest began for a suitable gift for the pope.
Roth eventually gave one of his own possessions, the painting of the Anabaptist martyr Dirk Willems.
Willems had been arrested and imprisoned in a Dutch city. He escaped and was seen running across an iced-over canal. Willems made it across, but a guard who was chasing him fell through the ice. Willems returned and helped the man out of the ice. He was then arrested and executed. His story is meant to symbolize commitment and love, even to one's enemy, Roth said.
Roth also went to an Amish bookstore in LaGrange and bought a German edition of the Martyr's Mirror to give to Benedict. The book examines the deaths of early Anabaptist martyrs.
The meeting between the Mennonites and the pope came shortly after the largely Mennonite Goshen College began offering Mass on campus, an effort spearheaded by Tina Peters and Emily Taylor of Goshen's Catholic Student Association.
Nearly 60 percent of Goshen College students are Mennonite, and 4 to 5 percent are Roman Catholic, said campus minister Bob Yoder. Peters and Taylor had the idea of an on-campus Mass after learning that they would be co-chairing the CSA.
The first Mass was in September, and is now typically one Wednesday a month at 8 p.m. The next Mass, which is open to the public, will be Dec. 5. Typically, Mass is in the college's Newcomer building, but on Dec. 5 it will be in Rieth Recital Hall, said Taylor.
Goshen College has students from a number of diverse faith backgrounds, and ideally it wants to respect the faith traditions of its students, Yoder said.
"Out of campus ministries we try to provide spiritual programming that nurtures spiritual life through all different faith groups that are here," Yoder said.
Ultimately Roth chose the engraving and Martyr's Mirror because of the historical relevance they represented between the Mennonites and Catholics. But if asked to present another gift in the future, Roth is hopeful that there will be a different meaning behind it.
"Maybe with the next gift that we give each other we won't have to be looking to the past history of persecution and we'll find perhaps a more celebrative gift that acknowledges more of what we have in common," Roth said.
Contact Tom Lange at firstname.lastname@example.org