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Q and A with Craig Morrison

by Jennifer Pelligrini, NF-Review staff writer

This article originally appeared in the Niagara Falls, Ontario, “Review,” October 4th, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

Reverend Craig Morrison didn’t need subtitles to watch The Passion of the Christ. The 45-year-old Niagara Falls native has taught Aramaic—the language spoken at the time of Christ, and in the movie—at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome for the past fifteen years.

 

It’s a far different role than he thought he’d have when he became a Carmelite priest. Back then, he thought he’d play an active role in the lives of parishioners or students, much like his role models at Saint Patrick’s Church and Notre Dame High School.

He has grown accustomed to life as a priestly academic, which takes him all over the world. But his heart and his family remain in Niagara Falls. For the last twelve years he has returned to the city every summer to teach religion to new teachers in the Niagara Catholic District School Board and to catch up with family and friends. Recently Morrison consented to an email interview, which he worked on while at a conference in Beirut, Lebanon.

Q: Was there a moment when you said: “this is what I’m going to be?”

A: When I was in high school. Father Joseph O’Brien was pastor of Saint Patrick’s. I observed him, a dynamic and caring priest who truly walks with his parishioners in their daily struggles. I thought to myself, “I want to do that too.”

Q: How many languages do you speak?

A: I like to say that no matter how many languages I know, there are still about 5,000 I do not know. I hope I speak and write fairly good English. I teach in Italian—I can do a bit more than ordering pasta in a Roman trattoria. At times I rely on high school French to get me through a conversation. It served me well in Lebanon. The Latin I learned in high school has also proven useful in my academic life. As for other languages, those that I know are, for the most part, no longer spoken, at least in their classical forms. I learned these languages in order to read and study the Bible in its original languages—Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. But my primary ancient language is Aramaic.

Q: What do you do at the Pontifical Biblical Institute?

A: My work in this Institute involves studying and teaching Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Jesus spoke a bit of Greek, too, but whenever he taught, especially in Galilee, he always spoke Aramaic; otherwise, he would not have been understood. Many Jewish and Christian documents written around the turn of the Christian era are in Aramaic. These are the kinds of documents I study and teach.

Q: What do you like most about your life today?

A: I enjoy the challenge of making the Bible come alive for people. I try to balance the rather intense academic research in biblical languages with teaching people how to read and appreciate the Bible. Over the past twelve summers I have returned to Niagara to work with the teachers of the Niagara Catholic District School Board. During a threeweek religion course, I watch their enthusiasm grow as they come to a deeper and more adult understanding of the Bible and their Catholic faith.