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Catholic Writer Charges That Two Interfaith Meetings in Canada Caused Jews ‘considerable Discomfort’

The visit of Pope John Paul to Canada has prompted the editor of an independent Canadian Catholic newspaper to charge that ecumenical and interfaith relations in this country have a low priority within the Roman Catholic Church.

In a major article in the bi-weekly Catholic New Times, Sister Mary Jo Leddy acknowledged that the Jewish participants, among others, in two events during the Pope’s visit last September suffered “considerable discomfort.”

The events of the Papal visit to which Leddy referred in her article last month were an ecumenical service in St. Paul’s Anglican (Episcopal) Church in Toronto and what was publicized as an “interfaith” service in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton, Alberta. Jews as well as other non-Christians had been invited to participate in the Toronto service to whatever extent they felt they could.

But the tone of the service, which stressed the importance of Christian unity in order to evangelize the world — convert it to Christianity — left non-Christians, in Leddy’s words, “decidely uncomfortable.”

STRONG RESERVATIONS ABOUT ONE OF THE SERVICES

She quoted Rabbi Jordan Pearlson of Toronto’s Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation, as saying: “There was not one moment in which non-Christians could participate in the service. “But Leddy has far stronger reservations about the Edmonton service.

By the time the service took place, those attending knew it was not, in fact, an interfaith event, but a Catholic evening prayer service. But non-Christians, including a rabbi, Haim Kemelman, were invited and agreed to attend. They found themselves listening to a homily which referred to God as having “called the (Jewish) people to repentance and promised to establish with them a new and better covenant….”

The homily continued: “And how did God establish this New Covenant? With the blood of Jesus, with the blood of the Lamb of God, the blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant, our Savior’s blood, which is the price of our redemption.”

Writing in The Canadian Jewish News, Kemelman said of the Pope’s address: “It was neither ecumenical nor did it contribute to interfaith appreciation and comprehension.”

‘HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED?’

Leddy, in her article which was captioned “How could this have happened?” offered several explanations. One explanation dealt with organizational confusion. Speeches were drafted by a series of committees at the national coordinating office in Ottawa and then forwarded to Rome for further revisions.

But, Leddy wrote, quoting a “highly-placed source in Rome”: “No one thought of ecumenism as a problem area so it didn’t get a lot of attention. The top writers weren’t put on the ecumenical services …. Those speeches got lost in Rome.”

Leddy also identified another problem: a much deeper theological confusion. “Conducting an ecumenical service for Christians in front of an invited interfaith group was experienced as deeply ambiguous,” she wrote. “Was this the work of the Pope himself?” She answers by saying she doesn’t think so, referring to a speech he gave in Germany in which he said that the “Old Covenant” had not been revoked.

Identifying those whom Leddy believes were responsible, she wrote: “It may not reflect the Pope’s own thinking, but it does reflect the working theology of many Vatican bureaucrats. A clear, passionate commitment did not exist in the area of ecumenical or interfaith relations.”

The Catholic New Times has a reputation for being outspoken on issues of peace and social justice, and Leddy herself has participated in peace missions to the Soviet Union and Central America. She is the provincial coordinator of the 100-member North American community of the Sisters of Sion, an order dedicated, according to its constitution, to promoting understanding and justice for the Jewish community. The order has houses in Toronto, Western Canada, Kansas City, Mo., and Brooklyn, N.Y.

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