After serving at Corpus Christi University Parish for 30 years, the Rev. Jim Bacik is retiring and moving to Chicago to teach at Catholic Theological Union. The popular pastor reached the Catholic Church's mandatory retirement age of 75 last year.
As an outsider, I'm not privy to the practices and policies of the Catholic Church or the Diocese of Toledo as they relate to the retirement of priests. But to see a man of such caliber and depth depart is difficult not only for the Corpus Christi community, but also for those of us who have been the recipients of his friendship and his grace.
Father Bacik has been a positive force for religious understanding and interfaith dialogue. The refreshing breeze of interfaith amity that blows across Toledo and northwest Ohio is in no small measure the result of his efforts and the efforts of a few other religious leaders.
He is an unusual man. A scholar-priest in the true meaning of the phrase, he has a doctorate in theology from Oxford University and is the author of eight books on various topics such as Catholic spirituality, tensions in the Church, contemporary theologians, and finding God in ordinary experience.
His name is on an endowed chair in Catholic studies (the Murray/Bacik Endowed Chair) at the University of Toledo, where he also holds an adjunct professorship in humanities.
I first met Father Bacik in the aftermath of 9/11, when he held a special prayer service in his church. He was eloquent and nonjudgmental. In contrast to the revengeful voices that emanated from many quarters, including some pulpits, he was calm and reassuring in his remarks and of other faiths in his prayers.
A year later, I observed his thoughtful and thought-provoking critique of his own religion during a Catholic-Muslim dialogue at UT.
Myrice Mikhail, a Christian-Arab woman of enormous energy and vision, had invited me to participate in an interfaith dialogue that she had established 10 years earlier to explore areas of common interest between Catholicism and Islam. Father Bacik was to represent Catholic faith in the dialogue.
We met for lunch to discuss possible topics. During our conversation, he wondered if we could depart from the tiresome routine of extolling the greatness of our respective religions and instead look inward with a critical eye. With some trepidation, I agreed.
That was the first time anyone ever had asked me to look critically at my religion. True believers, I had been taught, are supposed to follow and not question.
My talk, "The Dry Inkwells," was about stagnation in the Muslim world when its leaders decided to stifle the scholarly process of interpreting Islam according to prevailing times. This process -- ijtehad in Arabic -- had been a cornerstone of Islam during the first four centuries of its existence.
Father Bacik questioned the concept of Catholic exclusiveness. He examined it in the light of the Second Vatican Council, which saw goodness in other religions and did not deny the grace of salvation to people who followed their conscience.
Partly because of the topic, but mostly because of Father Bacik's participation, the dialogue was a huge success. I do not know what kind of scorn he received from other Catholics, but I was taken to task by self-appointed and self-anointed custodians of my faith.
Since that dialogue, Father Bacik's thoughtful approach to religion has become a template for those of us who are willing to look at our own faith with intellectual honesty and curiosity.
Father Bacik's other significant contribution has been in the development of UT's Center of Religious Understanding.
Thanks to Father Bacik and Rick Gaillardetz, the former Murray-Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies, the center now has an Islamic chair and a visiting professorship in Judaic studies, in addition to the Catholic chair. The Muslim chair is named after the late Imam A.M. Khattab of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. I hope other religions will become part of this center.
For religion to remain relevant in our lives, it has to continue to be dynamic and responsive to the spiritual quest of its followers. It must also be open to change within the broad framework of its history, traditions, and fundamental principles.
Father Bacik has the intellect, knowledge, and confidence to make us think and explore beyond the man-made facades of rigid tradition. When he departs for Chicago, he will leave behind a marvelous legacy.
I shall miss him.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com