Whether it’s political conflict, warfare, economic crisis, poverty – or a global pandemic – we are all faced with redefining our roles in a world that feels more divided and disconnected by the day.

The conversation between Benedictine monk, Father Columba Stewart, OSB, and PBS NewsHour contributor Fred de Sam Lazaro offers a centering compass.

Stewart, Executive Director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), works with a dedicated team in Collegeville, Minn., to digitize endangered handwritten books from around the world. The historical texts found in these manuscripts offer an important window into the cultural heritage of religious communities stretching from Mali to Nepal, Europe to Lebanon – and they span faiths as diverse as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Western and Eastern Christianity.

For centuries, global communities have safely cared for their texts – and they are now at risk of losing them because of natural disasters, political and religious conflict, and the damage and displacement that comes with these crises. HMML collaborates with these communities across the globe to ensure that this heritage is digitally preserved and shared freely for generations to come.

But what can these ancient texts offer the modern person?

As Stewart says, the texts allow us to “gain a historical perspective” on the pendulum swing of world events – measured in centuries, not years. Our common enemy is not the person across the aisle or across the world, but fanaticism in any form. We stand to learn a great deal about ourselves and our own place in the world if we can “find ways to listen to the voices of the other.”

We are all part of a global community. Our universal human experience should unite, not divide, us. Stewart reminds us that reflection and listening – to the wisdom embedded in ancient texts and to others across faith traditions – allows us to better understand ourselves, our place in the world and find a common way forward.

Melissa Moreton is the Assistant Director for Strategic Initiatives at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.


This story was made in collaboration with the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University.



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