Monday, January 12, 2015

Don't Forget the Past: Concerns Raised by Jewish-Catholic Dialogue

By Father John W. Crossin, OSFS

The USCCB Dialogue with the Council of Synagogues meeting in New York, December 1, was both disconcerting and instructive for me.  Rabbi Kenneth Jacobsen’s presentation in particular on “Rising Anti-Semitism in Europe” provided substance and cause for concern. He spoke candidly about people’s experience and backed this up with recent studies. He noted, for example, that around 60 percent of the Jews in France expect to be a victim of an “incident” in one way or another.
He believes that the cultural and economic stress in Europe, generally more serious than that in the States, is one of the roots of the rise in anti-Semitic deeds and words. For many too the Holocaust is a distant memory.

All is not bleak, however. Many leaders of European countries have taken strong stands against these words and deeds. This makes the situation very different from Germany in the 1930s.
My concern is closer to home. For years I have wondered if we are taking for granted the post-Vatican II cordial relationships between Jews and Catholics. The status quo may cause us to neglect our history—things were not usually this way.  We too have negative economic conditions for many people. We too can be forgetful of the past.

Cardinal Dolan, Catholic Co-Chair of the Dialogue, noted in the discussion with Rabbi Jacobsen that the Church’s diminished standing in Europe reduces its ability to combat anti-Semitism. I am wondering if that situation could be repeated here.

One of the key solutions is leadership. I am comforted by the fact that the Bearing Witness program for Catholic school teachers enables them to learn Jewish and Catholic history in depth. They can share accurate history with their students.

This raises another key solution, what we in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue call reception. If understanding and friendship grow out of a dialogue between leaders or scholars of two religious groups, then that progress has to be reflected in the daily realities of those faith communities. The dialogue has to be received by the average person and lived out through understanding, respect and even friendship.

Catholic leaders speak out against acts of violence and intolerance against synagogues and other religions. However, most of our people are aware that things have changed and we don’t want them to drift or abruptly change back to how they were before. In fact, ideally, our people should be moving forward, toward what Pope Francis calls a “culture of encounter” between people.

A detailed report on the dialogue session can be found online.

Father John W. Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis De Sales and executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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