By Father John W. Crossin, OSFS
Our Dialogue with rabbis from the National Council of Synagogues last week at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore was for me both most positive and most enlightening. It was most positive as we had—as always-- good conversations and learned from one another. As I expected, the representatives of the Council are very positive about Pope Francis. He is the friend of the Jewish community in Argentina and throughout the world.
It was most enlightening in regard to our topic: seminary education. I gave a presentation about the recent CARA seminary study data and related matters. It can be found on our webpage in the near future.
The presentation by Professor Michael Cook of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and the evening discussion of both talks was most encouraging.
Rabbi Cook teaches the seminary’s required course on New Testament [NT]. Why require such a course in a Jewish institution? Because the alumni have told the seminary administration that to understand their present context (e.g. the priest down the street) and western culture in general, a rabbi has to have this basic knowledge. Professor Cook said the initially reluctant students love Jesus’ parables with their unexpected endings. His exams are tough—real cases of past media inquiries to the Rabbi that must be answered with a pithy and well thought out statement. Good I’m not a student in that course!
The discussions that followed brought many important points to light:
· The seminaries curricula diverge. The Jewish seminaries have more emphasis on history and culture--the Catholic seminaries are more concerned with philosophy and theology.
· Most Catholic seminaries do not require a separate course on Judaism; only one of the eight Jewish seminaries requires NT.
· The seminaries integrate knowledge of one another into various courses with some opportunities to meet Jewish or Catholic students or members of congregations. But how much is really accomplished is not so clear.
Our sentiments came through in the four evening discussion groups. There was a widespread sentiment that day-long workshops or short courses on Judeo-Catholic relations would be helpful for all. Some of us think younger seminarians tend to presume our good relations of the last five decades as the norm. Few are aware of the importance of Vatican II’s document Nostra Aetate or subsequent affirmations and developments.
We still need to learn about one another. We look at life differently. It takes some time and effort to appreciate the other’s worldview.
At least some instruction needs to come from someone who is a member of the other community—an insider. Seminarians and members of congregations too have to get to know one another. This takes a little planning. Students might need an experience faculty member to introduce them to members of the other community and to be with them to ‘break the ice’ and ‘serve as an initial point of reference’ on what to say.
A Jewish student observer (seminarians are being invited regularly to our dialogue meetings) noted that once they learn the basics of Jewish-Catholic dialogue students are quite capable of taking their own initiatives. Students at her seminary and their Christian counterparts have a self-initiated regular meeting.
As always, there still is work to be done. Hard-won gains need to be extended. Mutual understanding is always to be prized.
Father John W. Crossin, OSFS, is Executive Director for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.