Recent Developments in Catholic-Jewish Relations

By: Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy

Two Symbolic Events

On March 12, 2000, Pope John Paul II called for and presided over a special service in St. Peter’s Basilica during which, in the name of the Catholic Church throughout the world the following prayer was offered:


God of our Fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants

To bring your name to the nations:

We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history

Have caused these children of yours to suffer,

And asking your forgiveness

We wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood

With the people of the covenant.


On March 26, 2000, just two weeks later, Pope John Paul II placed this prayer seeking pardon for the suffering caused to the Jews in the course of history, with his signature on it, in the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem. Three days earlier, His Holiness had laid a wreath on the tomb in the mausoleum of Yad Vashem and re-kindled the flame that recalls the six million victims of the Shoah. In continuation, as it were, of the prayer offered in St. Peter’s, the Pope stated during that moving ceremony in Jerusalem:


Here as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to hear their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale. We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose – namely, to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.


There events symbolize the new relationship that has been forged over the past 36 years, since the Second Vatican Council, between Catholics and Jews. Pope John Paul II looking back at the many outstanding events of the Holy Year did not hesitate to judge the visit to Jerusalem as one of the most significant. For those of us who were privileged to stand with him at the Western Wall of the Temple, it seemed that all the efforts made over the previous thirty odd years to mend the broken and bloodstained fences between Jews and Christians had received the seal of God’s blessing and could never be again undone. A well-known Dominican biblical scholar and longtime resident of Jerusalem, Rev. Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, commenting on the Pope John Paul’s visit to the Western Wall of the Temple, stated:


By standing there (at the Western Wall), he transformed the relationship of Christianity towards Judaism. It is a complete reversal of history.


Three Important Recent Developments:

In the past there has been a notable reluctance on the part of the Jewish partner to discuss questions concerning our faith understanding. This is of course very understandable in view of the past experiences of the Jewish people. Recently, however, to my delight, I am hearing more and more Jewish voices making the request that we enter into genuine dialogue or discussions on theological questions. Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, the President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which unites 1.5 million Reform Jews in 895 Synagogues in North America, in a lecture given last year called for Catholics and Jews to reflect together on faith questions and has urged the Catholic Church and his organization to undertake a joint campaign about the two religions. “This means”, he said, “that the Catholics need to educate Catholics about Jews, and the Jews to educate Jews about Catholics”.   While the Holocaust remains for him, as for Catholics, a deep concern, he believes that “a dialogue of grievance can no longer dominate our relations”. We must – both Jews and Christians – bring the great news of Jewish-Christian reconciliation to the members of our communities if we wish to ensure that we are building on a solid foundation.


Three recent documents have come to confirm the great progress that has been made in Christian-Jewish relations and to look forward to a new era of cooperation. Moreover, they seem to me to open the way for more intense dialogue on questions that, so far, we have not dared to approach.


1) Dabru Emet

The first was an initiative from the Jewish partner in our dialogue, namely the publication in September 2000 of a Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity: Dabru Emet (Proclaim the Truth). The document opens with the statement: “In recent years, there has been a dramatic and unprecedented shift in Jewish and Christian relations”, and considers that the changes made by Christians “merit a thoughtful Jewish response”. It then offers eight brief statements about how Jews and Christians may relate to one another:

  • Jews and Christians worship the same God. “While Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews, as Jewish theologians we rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel”.
  • Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book – – the Bible (what Jews call “Tanakh” and Christians call the “Old Testament”). While noting that Jews and Christians interpret the Bible differently on many points, the statement insists that such differences must always be respected.
  • Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel.
  • Jews and Christians respect the moral principles of Torah. “Central to the moral principles of Torah is the inalienable sanctity and dignity of every human being. All of us were created in the image of God. This shared moral emphasis can be the basis of an improved relationship between our two communities. It can also be the basis of a powerful witness to all humanity for improving the lives of our fellow human beings and for standing up against the immoralities and idolatries that harm and degrade us”.
  • Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. “Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out. Too many Christians participated in, or were sympathetic to, Nazi atrocities against Jews. Other Christians did not protest sufficiently against these atrocities. But Nazism itself was not an inevitable consequence of Christianity. If the Nazi extermination of the Jews had been fully successful, it would have turned its murderous rage more directly to Christians. We recognize with gratitude those Christians who risked or sacrificed their lives to save Jews during the Nazi regime. With that in mind, we encourage the continuation of recent efforts in Christian theology to repudiate unequivocally contempt of Judaism and the Jewish people”.
  • The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in the Scripture.
  • A new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice.
  • Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace.


“Dabru Emet” goes further than any other Jewish document in acknowledging the close links that bind Jews and Christians together and in calling for closer collaboration in favour of justice, peace and the preservation of the moral order. The statement on Christianity and Nazism is particularly welcome, while the acknowledgement that “the humanly irreconcilable difference between the Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the whole world as promised in Scripture”, is a timely reminder that, as we look to the future, Catholics and Jews must not dialogue with the expectation that they will agree on everything. It would be naive of us to think so. We are two distinct faith communities with common roots and a great deal in common, yet with essential differences that must be respected. The process of dialogue requires both a clear understanding of one’s own faith tradition and openness to the experience of others. We must not be surprised or disturbed when, on one or other matter that touches our faith or history, we have different opinions or understandings. Neither should sincere criticism upset us, provided that it is objective and framed in a way that does not offend our mutual esteem and respect for one another. Such criticism can be good for us. It helps us to reflect more deeply on our positions or initiatives. This is, of course, very different from certain aggressive criticism with its own agenda, and from the activity of pressure groups.


2) Abraham’s Heritage – A Christmas Gift

The document Dabru Emet was followed by short article by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, published on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano on December 29th, 2000, entitled: Abraham’s Heritage – A Christmas Gift. Referring to the very negative Jewish reaction to the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Dominus Jesus, published in September 2000, His Eminence affirms:

It is evident that, as Christians, our dialogue with the Jews is situated on a different level than that in which we engage with other religions. The faith witnessed to by the Jewish Bible is not merely another religion to us, but is the foundation of our own faith.

The Cardinal then gives what has been called “a new vision of the relationship with the Jews” . After tracing briefly the history of God’s dealings with the Jewish people, the Cardinal expresses “our gratitude to our Jewish brothers and sisters who, despite the hardness of their own history, have held on to faith in this God right up to the present and who witness to it in the sight of those peoples who, lacking knowledge of the one God, ‘dwell in darkness and the shadow of death’ (Luke 1:79)”.

The article then has the following interesting comment on relations between Christians and Jews down through the centuries:

Certainly from the beginning relations between the infant church and Israel were often marked by conflict. The Church was considered to be a degenerate daughter, while Christians considered their mother to be blind and obstinate. Down through the history of Christianity, already-strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth to anti-Jewish attitudes that throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah was prepared in the name of an anti-Christian ideology that tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by the inherited anti-Judaism in the hearts of not a few Christians.

For the Cardinal, it is perhaps this latest tragedy that has resulted in a new relationship between the Church and Israel, which he defines as “a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other and reconciliation”. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, the Cardinal suggests that “it must begin with a prayer to our God first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong the adoptions as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah (Rom. 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29)”.Cardinal Ratzinger goes on to propose to Christians that they in their turn might pray to God “that he grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son and the gift they have made to us”. His final conclusion reminds us of the sixth statement in Dabru Emet: “Since we are both waiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge”.


3) Reflections on Covenant and Mission

This is quite a remarkable statement “issued by the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Synagogues USA”. It is the result of discussions between leaders of Jewish and Roman Catholic communities in the United States, who have been meeting twice a year over a period of two decades, and was published on August 12th, 2002.

For several years, I have been advocating a study of this kind on the relationship between the two Covenants that basically describe the nature of the two religious communities. The document Reflections on Covenant and Mission is an encouraging response, that – in the words of the US Bishops Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations -, “marks a significant step forward in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community” in his country.

The Jewish and Catholic reflections are presented separately in the document, but affirm together important conclusions. The Catholic reflections describe the growing respect for the Jewish tradition that has unfolded since the Second Vatican Council, and state:

A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with the divinely-given mission to Jews to witness to God’s faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.

The document stresses that evangelization, or mission, in the Church’s work cannot be separated from its faith in Jesus Christ in whom Christians find the kingdom present and fulfilled. But it points out that this evangelizing mission goes far beyond “the invitation to a commitment to faith in Jesus Christ and to entry through baptism into the community of believers that is the Church. It includes the Church’s activities of presence and witness; commitment to social development and human liberation; Christian worship, prayer, and contemplation; interreligious dialogue; and proclamation and catechesis”.

But given the “utterly unique relationship of Christianity with Judaism” and the many aspects of this spiritual linkage, “the Catholic Church has come to recognize that its mission of preparing for the coming of the kingdom is one that is shared with the Jewish people, even if Jews do not conceive of this task christologically as the Church does”. In view of this, the document quotes Prof. Tommaso Federici and Cardinal Walter Kasper to state that there should not be in the Church any organization dedicated to the conversion of the Jews.  From the Catholic point of view, Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation. Cardinal Kasper notes:

God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.

According to Roman Catholic teaching, the document states, both the Church and the Jewish people abide in covenant with God. They both therefore have missions before God to undertake in the world. The Church believes that the mission of the Jewish people is not restricted to their historical role as the people of whom Jesus was born “according to the flesh” (Rom 9:5) and from whom the Church’s apostles came. It quotes Cardinal Ratzinger who recently wrote, “God’s providence … has obviously given Israel a particular mission in this ‘time of the Gentiles’.” “However, only the Jewish people themselves can articulate their mission, “in the light of their own religious experience”.

The Catholic section of the document concludes with this profound statement:

With the Jewish people, the Catholic Church, in the words of Nostra Aetate, “awaits the day, known to God alone, when all peoples will call on God with one voice and serve him shoulder to shoulder”.

The Jewish reflections are given the title: The Mission of the Jews and the Perfection of the World. This mission is described as three-fold, rooted in Scripture and developed in later Jewish sources:

There is, first, the mission of covenant – the ever-formative impetus to Jewish life that results from the covenant between God and the Jews. Second, the mission of witness, whereby the Jews see themselves “and are frequently seen by others” as God’s eternal witnesses to His existence and to his redeeming power in the world. And third, the mission of humanity, a mission that understands the Biblical history of the Jews as containing a message to more than the Jews alone. It presupposes a message and a mission addressed to all human beings.

The document describes the mission of covenant and witness, before dealing more at length with the mission of humanity, stating that the message of the Bible is a message and a vision not only to Israel but to all of humanity. It then reminds the reader that Isaiah speaks twice of the Jews as a light to peoples, and quotes the experience of Jonah to illustrate that it is a mistake to think that God is concerned only with the Jews. “The God of the Bible is the God of the world. His visions are visions for all of humanity. His love is a love that extends to every creature […] Adam and Eve were His first creations and they are created long before the first Jews. They are created in ‘the image of God’, as are all of their children to eternity. Only the human creation is in the divine image:” Tikun ha-olam, perfection or repairing of the world, is a joint task of the Jews and all humanity. Though Jews see themselves as living in a world that is as yet unredeemed, God wills His creatures to participate in the world’s repair.

Finally, the Jewish reflections point out certain practical conclusions that follow from the three-fold “mission” in classical Judaism, and which suggest a joint agenda for Christians and Jews. The reflection begins with the following statement:

Although Christians and Jews understand the messianic hope involved in that perfection quite differently, still, whether we are waiting for the messiah  – as Jews believe – or for the Messiah’s second coming  – as Christians believe – we share the belief that we live in an unredeemed world that longs for repair.

Then it asks: “Why not articulate a common agenda? Why not join together our spiritual forces to state and to act upon the values we share in common and that lead to the repair of the unredeemed world? It then outlines what Jews and Christians have already done together: advancing the cause of social justice, marching together for civil rights, championing the cause of labor and farm workers, petitioning the government to address the needs of the poor and homeless; calling on the country’s leader to seek nuclear disarmament.

Looking then to the Talmud, the document draws from that source thoughts about repairing the world, giving details of charity directed to the poor and deeds of kindness to all, the poor and the rich, the living and the dead; creating an economy where people are encouraged to help one another financially as an expression of their common fellowship; obligations to the sick and mourners; preserving the dignity of the aged. While Jewish law is of course directed at Jews and its primary concern is to encourage the expression of love to the members of the community, it points out that many of these actions are mandatory towards all people, and quotes the Talmud as saying:

One must provide for the needs of the gentile poor with the Jewish poor. One must visit the gentile sick with the Jewish sick. One must care for the burial of a gentile, just as one must care for the burial of a Jew. [These obligations are universal] because these are the ways of peace.

Our Common Mission

Not everyone in our two communities will agree with all that is stated in this document. Yet, I believe the challenge it poses can be, and should be, fully shared by Christians and Jews. At the conclusion of the historic meeting, on March 23rd, 2000, between the two Chief Rabbis of Israel and Pope John Paul II at the Heichal Shlomo, the Pope did not hesitate to affirm:

There is much that we have in common. There is much that we can do together for peace, for justice, for a more human and fraternal world. May the Lord of heaven and earth lead us to a new and fruitful era of mutual respect and co-operation, for the benefit of all.

If we examine both the Jewish and Christian relationship to God, it is clear that both have been given a common mission: to be a light to the nations. Pope John Paul II has stated:

As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is a common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another. .

Our world today urgently needs our common witness to the truths that God has entrusted to us, Jews and Christians. Already in Prague, in 1990, the International Liaison Commission pledged its members to seek Common Goals. We are faced with a growing secularization worldwide, a deep crisis of faith that either denies or simply ignores the very existence of God. The extraordinary advances in technology and the enormous effects on commerce and life of globalization tend to make the creature once again arrogant and self-sufficient, as at the time that men set out to build a tower “with its top reaching heaven”, that has been named Babel (Gen 11:4-9). The events of September 11 last year and the aftermath have shown us just how much evil there is in our world today and what terrible resources are available to those who set out on the path of evil. In the days following the attack on New York, Pope John Paul II, on his visit to Kazakstan, appealed “to everyone, Christians and the followers of other religions, that we work together to build a world without violence, a world that loves life, and grows in justice and solidarity … May people everywhere, strengthened by divine wisdom, work for a civilization of love, in which there is no room for hatred, discrimination or violence”.

Can we make now the great change that this calls for in our relationship, by moving away further from the old mistrust and suspicion to a partnership in the cause of “peace, justice and a more human, fraternal world”? That I believe is the challenge that we face. While preserving past gains, I would hope that we, Catholics and Jews, might move towards a closer partnership. I would wish to see our dialogue as the work of two equal partners seeking together to build a better world. We began our discussions in order to solve our problems and promote a new relationship. It seems to me that we need now to go further and move our gaze from the bilateral relations of Jews and Christians to a wider world.

The Jewish section of the document Reflections Covenant and Mission challenges all Christians and Jews to take up such a path:

Does not humanity need a common path that seeks the ways of peace? Does not humanity need a common vision of the sacred nature of our human existence that we can teach our children and that we can foster in our communities in order to further the ways of peace? Does not humanity need a commitment of its religious leadership, within each faith and beyond each faith, to join hands and create bonds that will inspire and guide humanity to reach toward its sacred promise? For Jews and Christians who have heard the call of God to be a blessing and a light to the world, the challenge and mission are clear. Nothing less should be our challenge – and that is the true meaning of mission that we all need to share.



By: Dr. Eugene J. Fisher


The 15th National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations was held in Stamford, Connecticut (USA) on October 27-30, 1996, with over 1000 people attending from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Israel, and, thanks to a large contingent of Sisters of Sion from around the world, from Australia as well.  Under the theme, “Seeking God: The Challenge of Being Religious in America,” the program was once again rich and varied, providing opportunities for those involved in the field to update their experiences and understandings as well as an excellent program for “first timers,” including many theology students and educators.  Highlights included plenaries on “The Search for Religious Identity” (Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, editor of Commonweal and author Julius Lester of the University of Massachusetts), “Authenticity without Demonization” (Mary Boys, SNJM, of Union Theological Seminary, Neil Gillman of Jewish Theological Seminary, Anthony Saldarini of Boston College, and Paul van Buren, emeritus of Temple University), “the Impact of Religion on Society” (David Saperstien of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and Cecil Murray of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) and “Religion, Society and State” (Stephen L. Carter of Yale University), and on “Educating with and about the Other” (Sr. Audrey Doetzel, NDS).

In addition, each day was begun with joint reflections of the biblical texts of Romans 9-11 and Leviticus 25, lead by scholars such as Michael Cook of Hebrew Union College and Krister Stendahl, emeritus of Harvard University.  As Sr. Marge Boyle, NDS, reported in her account of the Workshop in SIDIC (vol. 30, no. 1, 1997, published in English and French in Rome by the Sisters of Sion), there were over 100 individual workshops dealing with education, theology , dialogue, social action, biblical studies, Israel, church-state relations, anti-Semitism, and even the Internet.  For your interest, the National Workshop has an Internet page linked to the Jewish-Christian Relations website, which I urge all to visit:  The site contains documents, essays and bibliographies in both English and German.  It was developed by Fritz Voll of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and is now maintained by the International Conference of Christians and Jews, posting documents and articles in several languages.

The Workshop honored several pioneers of the dialogue with special awards: Frank Brennan (of blessed memory) who founded and published The National Dialogue Newsletter, Sr. Katherine Hargrove, who has been active in the field since 1951 and most recently published Seeds of Reconciliation (1996), Rabbi Leon Klenicki of the Anti-Defamation League, Dr. Franklin Sherman of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, and Rabbi Walter Wurzburger of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Rabbinical Council of America.

Also in the U.S., the newly-constituted National Council of Synagogues (representing Reform and Conservative Judaism in this country), the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA issued a joint statement calling for a return to civility in public discourse on the eve of the presidential elections.  On October 10, 1996, Niagara University sponsored a conference on Jewish-Christian history over the ages featuring Eugene Fisher as keynote speaker. Boston College sponsored a symposium on “Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the American Consciousness,” with Fisher and Michael Neiditch of the Jerusalem Foundation speaking.  On November 21, the U. S. Holocaust Museum sponsored a discussion of Polish Catholic-Jewish Relations featuring Rev. John Pawlikowski, OSM, who also chairs the Museum’s Church Relations Committee, which met at the Museum on December 11, 1996.  The Fall 1996 issue of The Journal of the Religious Education Association contains a report, papers and reflections on a unique Catholic-Jewish Colloquium of educators from both traditions sponsored by the Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies in Baltimore.  Write to Rev. Chris Leighton at the Institute (1316 Park Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217) for information on this and their other very useful programs and resources.  They also have a link on the website to their own home page, which is well worth a virtual visit.


On April 14, 1997, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Rite Churches, in a ceremony in Pittsburgh presented to Rabbi A. James Rudin the first Joseph Award for his lifelong contributions to reconciliation between Christians and Jews.  The papal medal struck for the occasion, is believed to be the first ever to be inscribed with Hebrew letters.  “The building of human bridges is one of the great success stories of this terrible, bloody century,” Rudin said in accepting the honor. (Text in Origins May 1, 1997, vol. 26, no. 45, pp.742-744.)

On April 15, 1997, the twice-yearly consultation between the National Council of Synagogues NCS) and the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA), chaired respectively by Rabbi Mordecai Waxman and Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, met for the first time at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.  After the meeting, the group participated in a ceremony sponsored by the Museum to honor the Catholic rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, many of whose names are memorialized in the Museum.  Cardinal Keeler addressed the group: “The saving deeds and lives of Catholics that we remember here today represent crucially important moral lights in a period of darkness.  Tragically, the world art large believed what it wanted to believe and did what it wanted to do, which was virtually nothing..  Today we celebrate the memory of some non-Jews–specifically Catholics–who did do something at a time of utmost crisis when most European Catholics either could not, or would not help their neighbors in desperate need. . .We Catholics who are teachers need such models if we are to be able to prepare the next generations of Christians properly for living moral lives in a world that can, as it did in the 1940’s, descend into absolute moral chaos with dizzying rapidity” (text in Origins, May 1, 1977, vol. 26, no. 45, pp. 739-741).  The event concluded with a ceremony honoring Pere Jacques Bunel of France, a Carmelite killed by the Nazis for attempting to rescue 4 Jewish children.  The ceremony initiated a small temporary exhibit of the museum featuring the story.

On March 18, 1997, the NCS and the BCEIA co-sponsored a meeting of leading Catholic and Jewish educators in what is hoped will be the first of a series of such meetings probing how each presents the other in our respective classrooms and whether joint programming, such as is already being done in Los Angeles and Brooklyn/New York is possible on a wider scale.

Facing History and Ourselves is a national educational and teacher training organization begun in 1976 whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice and anti-Semitism.  Over the years they have developed a variety of sound programming and materials for educators.  Their address is 16 Hurd Road, Brookline, MA 02146.  Their E-mail address is:

Merrimack College has established a Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations.  For information write to Prof. Martin S. Goldman, Merrimack College, 315 Turnpike Street, North Andover, Massachusetts 01845 USA.

The spring, 1997 meeting of the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA) and the National Council of Synagogues was held at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., followed by a Museum-sponsored ceremony honoring Pere Jacques Bunel, OCD, and other Catholic rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.  William Cardinal Keeler’s remarks on the occasion are in Origins (vol. 26:45, May 1, 1997).  The October 21, 1997 meeting was held at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York to discuss the draft of a joint statement of reflections on common concerns and hopes regarding the Millennium/Jubilee 2000 that may be of assistance to local celebrations.


On December 18, 1997, John Cardinal O’Connor hosted and co-chaired with Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld the BCEIA consultation with the Rabbinical Council of America/Orthodox Union.  The meeting considered a joint statement on school vouchers and perhaps other forms of assistance to private education, which they strongly support.



By: Dr. Eugene J. Fisher


Participating in the BCEIA/Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) Interfaith Journey to Israel and Rome led by Cardinal Keeler and Rabbi Joel Zaiman of Baltimore on March 8-19, 1998 were Bishops John J. Nevins of Venice, Basil Losten of the Ukrainian Diocese of Stamford, Stephen E. Blaire of Los Angeles, John P. Boles of Boston, and  John C. Nienstedt of Detroit, and Rabbis Allen Friehling of Los Angeles, Michael Menitoff of Boston, Dannel Schwartz of Detroit, and Mark Winer of London.  The delegation was staffed by the Rabbi A. James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee, Msgrs. Robert Stern and Dennis Madden of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Dr. Lawrence Rubin of JCPA and Dr. Eugene Fisher of the BCEIA.

Highlights of what the participants came to consider a joint pilgrimage to Israel included a dialogue in the ancient synagogue of Capharnum, perhaps the first ever between successors of the Apostles and of the Pharisees since the generations immediately following Jesus’ time; a celebration of Purim in the bomb shelter of a Moshav (kibbutz) in the Galilee; a memorial service at Yad vaShem, Shabbat dinner with residents of Jerusalem, and meetings with the President of Israel and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

In Rome, the group, which by this time had grown quite close, were met at the airport by a Vatican representative and given copies of the statement of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, which had been issued while our group was in the air between Jerusalem and Rome.  Our meeting the next morning with His Eminence, Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, President of the Commission, gave him his first awareness of the likely response to the text by the Jewish community.  While much of the text was warmly welcomed by the Jewish spokespersons for the group on this occasion, Rabbis Waxman and Rudin, especially the sincerity of its call for Christian repentance (teshuvah), certain of the phrasings describing historical events appeared to them to be problematical.  Cardinal Cassidy took notes carefully, it must be said, during this discussion and during the meeting the next week of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC), which Cardinal Keeler and Dr. Fisher also participated in.  In this way the Cardinal was quite well prepared to clarify the perceived ambiguities when in May of 1998 he met with the American Jewish Committee at its annual meeting in Washington.  To help Catholics and others to understand the Church’s stance on the Shoah in the context of all of the various statements issued by local churches and by the Pontifical Commission from 1995 to 1998, the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs issued a collection of all of them, including the Cardinal’s crucial clarification, in September of 1998 under the title, Catholics Remember the Shoah (USCCB publication no. 5-290).  The communique for the March 25-28, 1998 ILC meeting and the joint statement, Care for the Environment: A Religious Act were published in Origins (April 9, 1998, vol. 27, no. 42, 701-704), and subsequently in the Information Service of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

In 1998, the Christian Scholars’ Study Group on Jews and Judaism, formed in the late 1960’s by leading Catholic and Protestant scholars involved in the dialogue, suffered the loss of two of its founding members, A. Roy Eckardt and Paul M. Van Buren.  May they rest in peace and be remembered for their great contributions to the reformation of Christian theology on Jews and Judaism.

The issuance on March 16, 1998 of the Holy See’s We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah added a substantive topic to the agenda of the BCEIA/NCS meeting in Baltimore on May 4-5, 1998.  Co-chaired by Cardinal Keeler and Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, the consultation also discussed and issued its joint statement, Reflections on the Millennium (published in Jubilee 2000 by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops:   At the conclusion of the meeting, Rabbi Mordecai Waxman was presented a papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory, the first rabbi ever to be so honored.  Sirs Sigmund Sternberg, Gilbert Levine, and Joseph Lichten, of blessed memory, have also been knighted by the Holy See.


On May 12, Dr. Fisher addressed the first meeting of the National Association of Boards of Rabbis on the topic of the Vatican Shoah document, which he also discussed with the New York Board of Rabbis on June 10, 1998.

On February 17-18, 1999, there took place a joint consultation of 15 Catholic and 15 Jewish educators and scholars at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore to begin a process of developing educational principles and guidelines for Holocaust education in Catholic schools in order to implement the mandate of the March, 1998 statement of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember: A Catholic Reflection on the Shoah.  The Jewish scholars’ participation was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. Cardinal William Keeler of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference and Msgr. John Radano of the Holy See’s Commission took part.  Other conferences on the Holy See’s Shoah document which took place in this period include March 11, 1999 at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia and March 15 at the Theological College of The Catholic University of America, and major joint consultations in Florida at St. Leo’s College, also co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, and in Chicago at the Cardinal Bernardin Center, co-sponsored by the Tanenbaum Foundation of New York.

The March 23, 1999 meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ consultation with the National Council of Synagogues was held at St. Mary’s in Baltimore, co-chaired by Cardinal Keeler and Rabbi Joel Zaiman and continuing our discussion of theological and social issues. The Consultation’s most recent statement was a joint reflection on the implications of the Millennium/Jubilee 2000 Year commemorations for Jewish-Christian relations.  It and other relevant statements, such as those of Cardinal Keeler condemning the attacks on the three synagogues in Sacramento, can be found on the Bishops’ Conference website ( and on the website of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning of Boston College (

On June 22, 1999, Cardinal Keeler issued in the name of the Conference a sharp condemnation of the attacks on the three synagogues in Sacramento.  On July 15, Bishop Fiorenza sent a check for $25,000 to Bishop Weigand to give to the rabbis of the synagogues to assist their rebuilding efforts.  The latter had already donated $20,000 in the name of the diocese.  These gestures of solidarity were deeply appreciated by the local and national Jewish communities.  The American Jewish Committee sent to Bishop Fiorenza a formal letter expressing the gratitude of American Jewry. A continuing series of controversies continues to draw media attention away from the larger story of ongoing progress in Catholic-Jewish relations.  These range from Edith Stein and Cardinal Stepinac to the Holy See’s document, We Remember: A Catholic Reflection on the Shoah, and the cross (and crosses) at Auschwitz.  While each is in itself relatively minor, all revolve around the Holocaust and the key question of how it will be remembered by future generations.  Increasingly, the memory of the figure of Pope Pius XII is emerging as a sort of symbolic “lightning rod” for Jewish concerns about how Christians will remember and teach about the Holocaust.  Dr. Eugene Fisher discussed the implications of the controversy in the John Courtney Murray Lecture at Fordham University in May.  An excerpt from the paper was published in America (September 11, 1999). A continuing series of controversies continues to draw media attention away from the larger story of ongoing progress in Catholic-Jewish relations.  These range from Edith Stein and Cardinal Stepinac to the Holy See’s document, We Remember: A Catholic Reflection on the Shoah, and the cross (and crosses) at Auschwitz.  While each is in itself relatively minor, all revolve around the Holocaust and the key question of how it will be remembered by future generations.  Increasingly, the memory of the figure of Pope Pius XII is emerging as a sort of symbolic “lightning rod” for Jewish concerns about how Christians will remember and teach about the Holocaust.  Dr. Eugene Fisher discussed the implications of the controversy in the John Courtney Murray Lecture at Fordham University in May.  An excerpt from the paper was published in America (September 11, 1999).


by Dr. Eugene J. FisherTHE MILLENNIAL YEAR 2000In March of 2000, Pope John Paul II, made a historic and, for him, long awaited trip to the Holy Land.  In late February, he visited Egypt and Mt. Sinai, praying at the ancient monastery there with the Greek Orthodox monks who keep penitential vigil at the foot of the mountain where God revealed the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people. The papal pilgrimage then took John Paul to Bethlehem and Jericho in the Palestinian Authority. Then he came as a pilgrim to Nazareth and Jerusalem, sites pregnant with sacred memories for Jews and Christians alike.  As a pilgrim he prayed, not only at Christian sites but at Jewish ones–the Western Wall (the “Kotel”), the only remnant of the Temple of Jerusalem at which Jesus prayed and which he sought to cleanse, and Yad VaShem, Israel’s profoundly moving memorial to the six million lives so brutally ended by Nazism in its short time of earthly power.  Despite the hoopla of the media and the various ongoing differences in viewpoint between Catholics and Jews, the pope’s prayers were healing ones, offering reconciliation to both ancient communities.  They were yet further steps taken by this most remarkable pontiff in building the bridge of trust between the Church and the Jewish People.

They recalled earlier historic gestures by the Pope.  They recalled his surprising 1979 visit, shortly after he became Pope, to Auschwitz, where he prayed in particular for its Jewish victims in a time when Communist orthodoxy wanted to “universalize” Nazi genocide as a general “crime against humanity,” with no particular victims, just as they had done at Babi Yar. They recalled the pope’s geographically shortest yet historically longest trip across the Tiber from the Vatican to the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986, where John Paul became the first Bishop of Rome to visit and to pray in a Roman synagogue since St. Peter (who never stopped going to synagogue even after becoming a Christian).  They recalled the historic 1987 meeting in Miami between the Pope and over 400 leaders of the world’s largest Jewish community, where the Pope took as his own the Jewish watchword after the Holocaust: “Never Again!”  They recalled the Pope’s consistent and urgent appeals to the Catholic community to reform its teachings on Jews and Judaism and to incorporate Holocaust studies into Catholic education on all levels and in all places through the world.

In Jerusalem, the Pope met with the two chief rabbis of Israel.   Imagine:  the successor of Peter, “chief” as it were of the apostles after the death and resurrection of Christ, meeting with respect, dignity and due deference the heirs of the Pharisees.  It was a meeting of dialogue not diatribe, a meeting of reconciliation after centuries of alienation.  It was a meeting neither the Pope’s nor the chief rabbis parents’ could have dreamed to be possible in their wildest imaginations. Truly, we live in a sacred time, a time blessed with the opportunity to change the course of human history. This Pope from Poland, which had the largest number of Jews in the world when he was born and only a pitiful remnant by the time he was ordained a priest (3 million Polish Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation), has seized the opportunity not just of a lifetime but of the millennium.  The world will be forever better for it.

At Yad VaShem, the Pope observed a moment of prayerful silence and then intoned:

“In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence.

Silence in which to remember.

Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back.

Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.

My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the war.

I remember my Jewish friends and neighbors, some of whom perished while others survived. . .

We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail as it did for millions of innocent victims of Nazism. . .

As Bishop of Rome and successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the gospel law of truth and love and by no other consideration, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews by Christians at any time and in any place. In this place of solemn remembrance, I fervently pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in the twentieth century will lead to a new relationship between Jews and Christians.

Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord, and look to Abraham as our common father in faith.” (Jerusalem, March 23, 2000)

Many Israelis in attendance, survivors and politicians, religious leaders and security officers, cried.  They were healing tears, tears of hope and reconciliation.  Prime Minister Ehud Barak, himself a former general not given to sentimentality, spoke equally from his heart and, I believe, from the heart of the Land and People of Israel, the sons and daughters of Abraham :

“When my grandparents, Elka and Shmuel Godin, mounted the death trains at Umschlagplatz near their home in Warsaw, headed toward their fate in Treblinka-the fate of three million Jews from your homeland-you were there, and you remembered.

You have done more than anyone else to bring about the historic change in the attitude of the church toward the Jewish people, initiated by the good Pope John XXIII, and to dress the gaping wounds that festered over many bitter centuries.”

While the secular press, its own heart seemingly melted for the moment, called this exchange “soaring rhetoric,” it was in fact much more than that. It was the simple, unadorned truth.

In late May and early June of 2000, two remarkable theological dialogues took place, the first in London, the second at our own Catholic University of America in Washington,  DC.  Both were international in scope, involving distinguished Catholic and Jewish thinkers from five continents around the world (North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia).  One Orthodox rabbi, who came to the London conference from Israel, had been born in South Africa and had served for a time as the Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

The London conference in May was co-sponsored by the British Conference of Catholic bishops and the CUA conference (most graciously hosted by its Law School) was co-sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Both conferences were initiated by the Jewish side of the dialogue, the World Union of Progressive Judaism, on the one hand, and by a new, international gathering of rabbis dedicated to dialogue with Christianity, the Rabbinical Association for Interreligious Dialogue.  These remarkable Jewish initiatives came in response to a 1999 plea in Baltimore by Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jewish People for intensified dialogue.

The pope’s historic pilgrimage to Israel, likewise I believe, opened the hearts of many in the Jewish community to move the relationship to a new plane.  The very titles of the sessions of the London “Millennium Conference” reflected this optimistic vision of joint witness and action by God’s People, Israel, and God’s People, the Church.  The one assigned to me, for example, called for the Church and the Jewish People to covenant  together to form “a partnership for the Glory of God, the Good of Humanity, and the Future of Humanity.”

Along the way in the often profound and always spirited discussions that followed such major presentations, there emerged from the Jewish side time and again the conviction that it was time that Judaism acknowledge the divine origins of Christianity as a response to God’s revelation, just as the Catholic Church has acknowledge Judaism divine origins and continuing place – on its own terms – as a living response to God’s call to the Jews to be “a light to the nations.”  No formal resolutions were made at this initial gathering, of course, but opportunities and challenges were mutually explored.  Differences of viewpoint were as often noted within the representatives of the two world religions as between them.  The papers of  the major presenters and the discussants were published in T. Bayfield, S. Brichto, and E. Fisher, editors, He Kissed Them and They Wept:  Towards a Theology of Jewish-Catholic Partnership (London:  SCM Press, 2001).

I coordinated the Catholic side of the June 2000 symposium at the Catholic University in America (CUA) at the request of the Holy See.  It was in many ways an unusual event.  The rabbis present were brought together by two American institutes of Jewish-Christian studies, one free-standing, the other associated with a Catholic university, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.  Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, who is Orthodox, directs the latter; Rabbi Jack Bemporad (Reform) directs the former.  The two have had a long association with each other and with the Catholic Church on the national and international levels, counting many Cardinals, among them the late, beloved John Cardinal O’Connor, as close friends.

Like Rabbi Mark Winer of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, who helped set up the London Millennium Conference this May, Rabbis Ehrenkranz and Bemporad were responding to a plea for intensified religious dialogue between the Church and the Jewish people. All who participated were intellectually stimulated and spiritually moved by the event.  Truly, it was a graced moment in the history of an ancient relationship too often marred by mistrust and violence.  Rabbis and Catholic theologians exchanged views and insights into scripture and what it means to respond to God’s call to each of us as individuals and as members of God’s People on earth.

The theme of the conference, the theology of repentance and forgiveness, was highlighted by Fr. James Loughran, SA, Ecumenical Officer of the Archdiocese of New York, and Rabbi Ehrenkranz who presented the Catholic and Jewish understandings of divine and human forgiveness. The discussion after both presentations ranged from sophisticated theological enquiry into the precise meaning of the language used to numerous “Oh, Wow!” expressions as the Catholic and Jewish thinkers realized that, underlying two very diverse traditions of biblical interpretation over the centuries, lies a very similar vision of what true repentance (“teshuvah” in Hebrew, “metanoia” in the Greek of the New Testament) actually entails for the penitent: not only sincere sorrow, but more deeply the firm resolve never to commit the sin again, and, in the case of sins against fellow human beings, the necessity of reaching out to the one sinned against in a spirit of repentance.

This perhaps became most clear when the group considered jointly the sacred liturgical texts of our two traditions, those of the Canon of the Mass and of Holy Week for Christians, and those of Yom Kippur for Jews.  Both liturgical traditions, not surprising, rely on similar passages and from Pentateuch and the prophets.  Again, emphases and spiritual understandings diverge, but do not contradict one another as once we thought.  Reflection on both together, indeed, can bring both Jews and Christians to a deeper understanding of their own tradition.

In the Spring of 2000, also, a diverse group of fifteen Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish scholars were gathered together by Carol Rittner and John Roth at King’s College in Pennsylvania to discuss the then (as now) heavily emotional topic of Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.  The papers were published by the organizers of the symposium under that title by Leicester University Press and Continuum International in 2002.

Catholic-Jewish Relations  2001 – 2002

These millennial year discussions, here vastly oversimplified of course, would not have been possible even a generation ago.  The practice of medieval disputations forced upon Jews by Catholic rulers (with the setting always “stacked” in favor of the Christian disputants, so that if the rabbis argued too well they would at best face exile, if they were lucky) soured Jews for centuries from exposing themselves to Christians in discussion of serious religious matters.  No more.  The Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council, and most significantly under the inspired leadership of John Paul II, has so visibly and so sincerely come to repent of its sins against Jews that many (albeit by no means all!) Jews have seen in the beginning of the possibility for true, full reconciliation with the Church.  A follow-up to the Catholic University of America theological dialogue was held at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT in December of 2001.  It featured a paper by Cardinal Walter Kasper, with response by Rabbi Norman Solomon of Great Britain.

In February of 2001 the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See’s “We Remember.”  The document, intended for all Catholic schools, universities and seminaries, urges the incorporation of Holocaust into their curricula, as appropriate, and offers guidelines, reflections, and resources for educators.  It is available from the USCCB’s Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, which can be reached through our website.

Further dialogue was invested in at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee occurred May 1 – 3, 2001 in New York City. The ILC is co-sponsored by the Holy See and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation (IJCIC).The main theme of the gathering, “Repentance and Reconciliation,” was prompted by a desire to review the past eleven years, since Cardinal Edward I, Cassidy’s remarkable statement made in Prague 1990, on Teshuva.

Introducing the main theme, Repentance and Reconciliation, Rabbi Leon Klenicki argued that each of our communities needs to overcome its own form of triumphalism. “Christianity must overcome theological triumphalism: the conviction that it is the only way of salvation and has to be imposed on everyone. On our side, Judaism needs to overcome the triumphalism of pain and memories. We are obligated to respond to history with new affirmations of God’s covenant and with new dimensions of faith in humanity despite human evil’s potential.” He pointed to the Jewish statement, Dabru Emet (To Speak Truth), signed in 2000 by some 200 American rabbis and scholars, as an example of this Jewish response to Christian outreach for reconciliation.

One of the difficult issues addressed by this 17th ILC meeting was the publication of Dominus Iesus. “Dominus Iesus,” Cardinal Kasper said, “is an intra-Catholic document about interreligious dialogue addressed to Catholic theologians concerning problems with relativism, syncretism, universalism and indifferentism. It does not enter into the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. It must be noted first that the relationship between the church and the Jewish people is unique. Second, Dominus Iesus does not call into question the salvation of Jews. Third, the Jewish covenant has not been revoked and remains salvifically effective for Jews. Fourth, Dominus Iesus must be understood properly within the context of Nostra Aetate, papal encyclicals and other official documents of the church regarding Judaism. Fifth, there is no missionary activity on the part of the church directed toward converting the Jews. Dominus Iesus is not the end of our dialogue. It is a challenge for our dialogue.”

In a rather sad turn of events, in June of 2001, the world of ecumenical, Christian-Jewish and interreligious dialogue suffered a most severe setback with the untimely death of Father John Hotchkin, who for 34 years has been the director of the US Bishops Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.  Starting with the Conference just after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Hotchkin provided the intellectual and institutional framework for all that has been accomplished on the national level, and much of what has happened positively on the international level, between the Church and the Jewish People since the Council.  A man as humble as he was brilliant, Jack was my mentor and friend since he hired me for the Catholic-Jewish position in the summer of 1977.  He shall be sorely missed.

Finally, and with a great deal of unfortunate publicity, the six scholars, whose work had been positively received by the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee suspended their work in July of 2001.  At the heart was a legitimate, internal difference of opinion between the Catholic and Jewish scholars, the former being willing to push forward toward the goal of meeting as closely as possible the original mandate of examining thoroughly the 11 volumes, the latter feeling such work could not produce a report of any finality unless there was some measure of access to the unpublished documentation in order to provide a measure for analysis.

In the aftermath of this dissolution of the group, the ILC reaffirmed the need to move forward, and their resolve to do so.  Though it did not achieve its goal, the historical team did show that Catholic and Jewish scholars, working together, could indeed make significant progress toward a common goal even faced with the most sensitive and complex of issues.  The gratitude of Catholics and Jews everywhere should be theirs.

The spring 2002 meeting of the consultation with the National Council of Synagogues (Reform and Conservative Judaism), co-chaired by Cardinal Keeler, took place in New York on March 13, 2002.  The draft of a joint statement on mission was considered, along with work on a series of six videos on Catholic-Jewish relations to be developed for use in parishes and synagogues.  On March 18, a meeting of the ongoing consultation with Orthodox Judaism, co-chaired by Bishop Murphy, took place in Rockville Center, NY, centering on the possibility of a joint statement on school vouchers.  On March 25, Cardinal Keeler met with Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi Eugene Korn, interfaith director, in Baltimore, to discuss past difficulties and future promises.

On May 7, the Secretariat co-sponsored an international dialogue with the Rabbinical Council for Interreligious Dialogue on the statement of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2002).  The dialogue was hosted by the Law School of The Catholic University of America. The Catholic and Jewish scholars agreed on the significance of this text for religious education and as a basis for further dialogue in the future.

In August of 2002, delegates of the National Council of Synagogues and the BCEIA of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a joint statement entitled, “Reflections on Covenant and Mission”.

The Preface to the document summarizes the two parts of the Jewish/Catholic reflections.”

“The Roman Catholic reflections describe the growing respect for the Jewish tradition that has unfolded since the Second Vatican Council. A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with a recognition of a divinely-given mission to Jews to witness to God’s faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.”

“The Jewish reflections describe the mission of the Jews and the perfection of the world. This mission is seen to have three aspects. First there are the obligations that arise as a result of the loving election of the Jewish people into a covenant with God. Second, there is a mission of witness to God’s redeeming power in the world. Third, the Jewish people have a mission that is addressed to all human beings. The Jewish community is beginning to consider how Judaism’s missions might be related to Catholicism’s understanding of its mission for the world.”

In welcoming the document, Cardinal Keeler said that it “represents the state of thought among the participants of a dialogue that has been going on for a number of years between the U.S. Catholic Church and the Jewish community in this country.” Cardinal Keeler, the U.S. Bishops’ Moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations, said that the document, entitled Reflections on Covenant and Mission, “does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA). The purpose of publicly issuing the considerations which it contains is to encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics in the U.S. These considerations provide a basis for discussing both the similarities and the significant differences between the Christian and Jewish understandings of the call given by the one God to both peoples.”

Cardinal Keeler said that, within the Catholic community, there has been a growing respect for the Jewish tradition and the lasting covenant which God made with them. Judaism is “already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #839), a response to God’s grace that requires religious freedom and respect for the faith relationship between God and the human person. This same respect for the freedom of faith requires us to be open at the same time to the action of God’s grace to bring any person to accept what Catholic belief understands as the fullness of the means of salvation which are found in the Church.

Participants in the ongoing consultation are delegates of the BCEIA of the USCCB and the National Council of Synagogues (NCS) which represents the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

In September of 2002, the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, comprised of Protestant and Catholic scholars who have been meeting together regularly since 1969, issued a statement in response to Dabru Emet, which at the same time serves as an update or check-list of much of the best thinking in the dialogue on the Christian side.  It contains eight sections affirming the irrevocable nature of God’s covenant with the Jewish people and the relationship between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, eschewing supersessionism, anti-Semitism and organized “missionary efforts directed at converting Jews”, and calling on Jews and Christians and Jews to work together  to  heal  the  world.   It, too, can  be  found  on the Boston College website:

Needless to say, both of these statements have engendered considerable discussion within the Catholic and larger Christian communities.  A visit of Cardinal Kasper to the Center for Jewish-Christian Learning in early November of 2002 provided him with the opportunity to comment on the entire discussion over “Reflections” within the larger context of the dialogue and from the vantage point of Rome and the Church Universal, while his predecessor, now retired as President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Cardinal Cassidy similarly took the opportunity of an address he was asked to give in Wellington, New Zealand, to comment on the document as part of the ongoing dialogue between the Church and the Jewish People.  Like Cardinal Keeler, Cardinals Kasper and Cassidy welcomed “Reflections” as a step forward which is best to be understood as beginning a new phase of discussion, internally within the Church no less than between the Church and world Jewry.  As the Irish would say, we certainly live in “interesting times.

Persecuting the Christians

By: A.M. Rosenthal


Some columns can be postponed for more important topics, some put off until they seem newsier and many dropped because they do not flesh out. But some have to be written as soon as information is collected, no matter how late. This column is late, not because so much has been written about the subject and everybody knows, but for exactly the opposite reason.

A few journalists have written about the persecution of Christians in Communist or religious dictatorships. A few legislators have risen to protest. A few clergymen and their religious organizations try to arouse congregations. But astonishingly few, compared not only with the spread of the persecution, but what could be done to fight it, if the political, religious, business and press leaders of the world had the will and courage. A summary:

“Millions of American Christians pray in their churches each week, oblivious to the fact that Christians in many parts of the world suffer brutal torture, arrest, imprisonment and even death — their homes and communities laid waste — for no other reason than that they are Christians. The shocking untold story of our time is that more Christians have died this century simply for being Christians than in the first nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ. They have been persecuted and martyred before an unknowing, indifferent world and a largely silent Christian community.

“Eleven countries where Christians are currently enduring great religious persecution are China, Sudan, Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Egypt, Nigeria, Cuba, Laos and Uzbekistan. . . . They evidence a worldwide trend of anti-Christian persecution based on two political ideologies — Communism and militant Islam.” These passages are from “In the Lion’s Den” — as in the Book of Daniel: “My God sent his angel and he shut the mouths of the lions” — by Nina Shea, director of the Puebla Program of Freedom House, and is published by Broadman and Holman (1-800-233-1123).

Too briefly, but to be returned to, another day:

In the Sudan it is a pogrom. The Islamic militant Government has bombed and burned Christian villages, taken Christian children as slaves and tortured Christian worshippers and their priests.

In Saudi Arabia, that great ally of the U.S., no public expression of Christianity or any religion but Islam is permitted. No Bibles, no crosses except those smuggled and used on pain of arrest and torture. The price of conversion to Christianity is death.

In China, thousands of Roman Catholic and Protestant Chinese are imprisoned — more than in any country in the world — for holding worship, preaching or distributing Bibles without permission.

Like other Communist or Islamist states, China is an equal-opportunity persecutor. It makes life as nasty as possible in Buddhist Tibet.

If I were Christian I would complain that Christian leaders, political, religious and business, around the world have failed in their obligations to fight oppression of their co-religionists. I am complaining anyway.

Nor do I think Jewish organizations have done nearly enough, although more are involved than I had first thought. The presidents of Jewish organizations in meetings with U.S. officials have denounced anti-Christian persecution in Islamic nations.

I hope they also get more involved against persecution in China and Tibet and that Israel shows the U.S. the path to righteousness by ending arms trade with China. It was a Jew, Michael J. Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, who screamed me awake, as he has so many Christians.

In and out of Congress, the campaign to free Soviet Jewry is being studied for lessons on how to help persecuted Christians. Some obvious lessons:

Organize congregations to pay attention, more and continuously, to co-religionists outside America; make sure every American official meeting any Communist or Islamicist protests and warns about persecuted Christians every time; fight for legislation strenghtening the rights of religious refugees and the use of economic pressures.

Elect senators like Specter, Nickles, Lieberman, Ashcroft and Allard, and representatives like Wolf, Smith of New Jersey, Pelosi and Gilman.

And, personal note: Once awake, don’t fall asleep again.


A.M. Rosenthal
New York Times
© 1997 by The New York Times Company Reprinted by permission

Rapture and Renewal in Latin America

By:Pedro Moreno

At a recent crusade in Argentina, Alberto Mottesi, the Billy Graham of Latin America, thundered to the crowd, “Before we go to be with the Lord, our eyes will see the greatest evangelistic harvest in all the history of Christianity. We are living the greatest days in the history of the Church.” Though Mottesi himself is a Baptist, the harvest he was speaking of seems mostly to be a Pentecostal one.

The general growth of Latin America’s Evangelical population has been phenomenal. At the beginning of the 1980s, there were about 18.6 million Evangelicals in Latin America. Now there are close to sixty million, with eight thousand Latin American converts to evangelicalism every day, according to the Latin American Catholic Bishops Conference. Evangelicals make up 7 to 35 percent of the population in some Latin American countries—becoming, in Guatemala, Brazil, and Nicaragua, more numerous than practicing Catholics. But this growth has taken place primarily among Pentecostals. Recent statistics show that Pentecostals account for two out of every three Evangelicals in Latin America, and according to one estimate, nearly 40 percent of the world’s Pentecostals live in Latin America.

Latin Americans, accustomed to economic and political roller-coasters, seem to be at home with the new Pentecostal spiritual roller-coaster. Father Franz Damen, Catholic priest and missionary to Bolivia, argues that Pentecostalism in Latin America has joined itself with the popular culture, assuming the language and even some of the religious practices (vows, pilgrimages, symbols) of the people, along with folk music and dance. The emphasis on such practices as nonmedical healing has also appealed to indigenous traditions. Further facilitating the growth of Pentecostal churches is the fact that 99 percent of their leaders are native Latin Americans. Pentecostalism, declares Mortimer Arias, a prominent Uruguayan Methodist bishop, is “the most indigenous and popular Protestant modality that Latin America has produced.”

The Pentecostals find themselves not only questioning existing religious structures (both Catholic and Protestant), but also giving expression to a deep-rooted discontent with existing social and economic conditions—the discontent the Communists were certain existed throughout Latin America, though their revolution failed to spread.

The pietistic notion that divides the religious from the secular and assigns more importance to the spirit realm over the material world has a long history. In Latin America, this pietistic view has created what I, though a Latin American Pentecostal myself, can only call a religious paranoia—by which I mean that church members place great importance solely on “religious” matters at the expense of every other activity or aspect of life. Church takes precedence over family, work, and social life. Many believe, for instance, that they perform “spiritual things” only while reading their Bibles, attending church, or praying. Everything else—studying, working, sleeping, eating—is just “secular” or “worldly.” Only that music which explicitly refers to the Bible or to Jesus is “spiritual” or “Christian”.

Some months ago, a Pentecostal missionary in Bolivia was surprised when I asked him why the curriculum for his new Ministerial Training Center did not include courses on church history. “We are training Christians to evangelize the people now,” he declared. “We do not need to study church history.” In the attack on rationalism, all intellectual endeavor has been abandoned together with the study of systematic theology and church history, placing even the Bible in a secondary role after “experiencing and being anointed by the Holy Spirit.” In Latin American Pentecostal circles, it is common to hear such phrases as, “It doesn’t matter if you know the Bible well, the important thing is to be filled by the Holy Spirit, and be led by Him.” Indiscriminate acceptance of extra-biblical “revelations” and prophecies is also common.

The great and ongoing religious revival in Latin America gives Pentecostals (and Evangelicals in general) an unparalleled opportunity to transform the continent in all areas of life. But this enormous spiritual energy could be spent in individual and religious self-gratification if it is not directed properly towards society. The leaders of Pentecostalism in Latin America have good intentions, much zeal for God, and a passion for evangelism. They must consider carefully, however, the fact that they may be helping to breed a generation of frustrated and mediocre students and professionals. “It does not matter that I had poor results in this academic period, as long as I led some people to the Lord” becomes the resulting attitude among Pentecostal students.

Pentecostals alone will not be able to have a transforming impact. It is essential that Pentecostals work together with all Latin American Christians. The union of Pentecostal energy with other Protestants’ theological training, knowledge of church history, and emphasis on character-building would make any social effort all the more effective—particularly when it seeks the active participation of God-fearing Catholics as well.

There is no automatic correlation of evangelical growth with economic and social advancement. At the least, it will require that we Pentecostals see all areas of society not just the church, as part of God’s Kingdom, that our emotions be balanced and enriched by reason.


Pedro Moreno
International Coordinator for the Rutherford Institute, Bolivia
Excerpted from First Things, June/July 1997, Number 74

Education for Shalom

By: Mary C. Boys


In a recent class I showed a video entitled “Color Adjustment,” an examination of the way the media has portrayed African-Americans. While we were viewing the clips of bombings and other violent clashes in the Civil Rights years, one of the international students, a young man from Turkey, leaned over to me, “Is this real?” he asked.

Like racism in the United States, anti-Judaism is all too real in Christianity. Yet it goes unnoticed to millions of Christians, who somehow don’t hear the polemical character of many New Testament texts or consider the implications of equating Pharisee with hypocrite or presuming that “the” Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. It may be that the greatest obstacle to the eradication of anti-Judaism is the failure of the vast majority of Christians to realize how deeply they have internalized stereotypes and caricatures of Jews and Judaism.

We need, therefore, resources to sharpen people’s awareness of the inadequacy and injustice of anti-Judaism and to offer them more truthful understandings. Education For Shalom is precisely such a resource. In Part One, author Philip Cunningham traces the development of anti-Judaism in Christianity and then explains its renunciation in the contemporary Church. In Part Two, he uses this recent teaching to examine how Jews are portrayed in current Catholic textbooks at the elementary and secondary levels. In a supplement, Cunningham applies his categories of analysis to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (original, 1992; English, 1994).

His analysis of religion textbooks follows in the tradition of previous studies, most notably Rose Thering’s (1961) and Eugene Fisher’s (1976). Although, like Fisher, he documents a generally positive presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic textbooks, he also identifies significant problems, including problems with accurate presentations of the relationships between the covenants, the Pharisees, Jesus’ relationship with his Jewish contemporaries and the crucifixion. Cunningham considers that minimal application or complete lack of critical biblical insights in dealing with New Testament polemics to constitute the most important single deficiency in current textbooks. In his judgment, insufficient help is available either for teachers or students to understand the social world of the New Testament — a defect his work ameliorates.

His supplementary chapter on the Catechism bears considerable significance in light of the wide publicity that work has enjoyed. By the criteria employed in his content analysis. The Catechism has more deficiencies than do U.S. Catholic textbooks. Cunningham asserts that the weaknesses in this massive document (688 pp.) stem from an uncritical use of the Bible, failure to consider the self-understanding of Jews, and a carelessness in expression that results in a disparagement of Judaism. He astutely suggests that the documentary legacy inspired by Nostra Aetate supplement and refine use of the Catechism.

Education for Shalom is a scholarly work — a condensed version of a 1992 dissertation at Boston College (which I directed, so I make no claims to neutrality) — so lucid that it is accessible to a broad audience. Although most useful to Catholics because of its exegesis of Catholic ecclesial documents and its analysis of Catholic textbooks, this work deserves a wide readership. It concisely sketches the evolution of both anti-Judaism and its modem repudiation in certain Christian traditions, offers a perceptive interpretation of biblical scholarship, and presents a careful scrutiny of what textbooks are saying. This book belongs in the hands of everyone with educational responsibilities in the Church.


Review by Mary C. Boys
Skinner & McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology Union Theological Seminary, N.Y.C.
Education for Shalom,
Co-published by the American Interfaith Institute and the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321

A new book by Philip A. Cunningham
Associate Professor of Theology, Director of the Ministry Institute at Notre Dame College, Manchester, NH