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Former Master of Order Speaks of Religious as ‘Edgewalkers’

March 31, Adrian, Michigan Women and men religious are called to be “Edgewalkers,” ministering to people who are on the fringes of Church and society. That was the message that Timothy Radcliffe, OP, former Master of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, brought to a full auditorium of religious on March 13 during a special presentation at Weber Retreat and Conference Center.

Father Timothy Radcliffe’s talk on “Religious as Edgewalkers” at Weber Center

Father Timothy, a friar of the English Province, described himself as a “tourist” in ministry to those on the fringes, while those in the audience – and women and men religious everywhere – have had a variety of experiences working with those on the fringes: people in prison, the homeless on the streets, and people who are economically poor. Those on the margins of the Church include Catholics who are divorced, remarried, homosexuals, and all who feel “disenfranchised” from the Church. “That’s where the blessing comes in,” from ministering to these groups of people, he pointed out.

Father Timothy held up kneading bread as a model for “Edgewalkers.” “You gather up the edges and knead it so that what’s at the edge is now at the center,” he said. He compared the ministry of so many Catholic sisters to “kneading the dough, bringing in the neglected, the forgotten, the despised,” and gathering them into the center, into the Church.

“Our ministry is to be the arms of Christ – to go out and touch people who are on the margins,” Father Timothy said, noting that Jesus himself was an “Edgewalker.” While Jesus had a “center” of apostles and an “inner circle” of three apostles who were closest to him, he also reached out to people on the margins of his day: lepers, tax collectors, sinners, and women.

He urged the women and men religious in his audience not to fear risking their reputations to reach out to the marginalized. If we are to follow Jesus’ example, we must also eat and drink with those on the edge. “We must accept their friends and enter their homes and their lives,” he said. “If we do, then we’ll be misunderstood. Jesus died of being misunderstood.”

Much of Father Timothy’s talk involved stories of people on the edge, from a group of about 40 who had been imprisoned for life because of serious crimes such as murder – and who, through their study and prayer, became lay Dominicans – to a mother and her young children who made him feel at welcome in their home at a rubbish heap in Kingston, Jamaica. After the morning presentation, participants gathered in small groups to discuss their roles as “Edgewalkers.”

During the afternoon session, Father Timothy focused on the relationship between the Catholic Church and women and men in religious life. He stressed the importance of unity: of the Church and of all humanity. “The Catholic understanding is that, in Christ, all things will be united. Unity is an expression of being Catholic.”

The unity in the Catholic Church does not imply a lack of tension, however, Father Timothy noted. Tension has existed within the Church since the time of Peter and Paul, who frequently disagreed. The Church also has differences with today’s world, but, Father Timothy warned, Catholics “can’t fall into our own ghetto” and separate ourselves from the world.

He concluded his talk with a discussion on obedience, particularly the Dominican slant. Because the order was founded on democratic principles, Dominicans view obedience as a process of listening to God and each other. Father Timothy focused on different levels of obedience: obedience to God, which is fundamental; obedience to truth supported by reason; obedience to authority; and obedience to conscience, which is “where God speaks to us” if we have a well-formed conscience.

Father Radcliffe is one of many guest speakers who will be making presentations at Weber Center in the next few months. For information on upcoming programs, call 517-266-4000 or log on to their website.