NEW YORK (Oct. 21)
John Cardinal O’Connor told a meeting here last night marking the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of Vatican Council II’s “Nostra Aetate” — the declaration which repudiates anti-Semitism and the deicide charge — that a sharing of the “mystery of the suffering of the Holocaust” is the “foundation for true Christian-Jewish dialogue.”
Close to 700 people attended the celebration of the anniversary of Nostra Aetate at Temple Emanu-El here sponsored by six Jewish organizations, the Archdiocese of New York and Brooklyn, and the congregation. Discarding most of his eight-page prepared text, the Cardinal shared with the audience his personal feelings about the Holocaust, the Jewish perceptions of its uniqueness in history, and the importance of understanding both phenomena through a genuine dialogue between Christians and Jews.
The Cardinal told the audience that he had “fried to steep” himself in Holocaust literature and had “read extensively” both scholarly and testimonial works on the subject to “see the Holocaust through the eyes of those who had experienced it.” He had wept and been “chilled” when reading these, he said. Whenever he reads from any book on the Holocaust “my heart is torn to shreds,” he stated.
O’Connor also described how he had wrestled with the belief of Jews that “no suffering in all of history can be comparable to the Holocaust, and that therefore it is sacreligious for any of us to enunciate our suffering and compare it with yours.”
But, he continued, he “pleads” with Jews to recognize that the “common frame of reference of all people everywhere is suffering. We each of us suffers.” He said Catholics had experienced “enormous suffering over the centuries.” The Cardinal continued:
“We cannot accept a trivialization of our sorrows and suffering and oppression at various times throughout the centuries … a brushing-off of these as not worthy of consideration because they are not comparable to the mystery of the suffering of the Holocaust.”
Suffering, O’Connor said, “is the language of dialogue.” He called on Jews to “understand our lack of understanding” and not to “withhold” from Christians the “mystery of the suffering of the Holocaust.” This, he said, “far beyond the magnificent social works we could engage in together,” is the “true foundation for true dialogue” between Christians and Jews.
Responding to the Cardinal, Rabbi A. James Rudin, National Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee, said that before 1965, Catholics and Jews had been “separate and unreconciled to one another” because of the suspicion and theological bias stemming from 2,000 years of history.
Catholics, he said, often saw Jews “as a spiritually and sometimes even a physically surplus people ….”with some believing that Jews were “cursed” because of the crime of deicide — killing Jesus. Jews perceived Catholics as “members of a church that professed love but who often practiced hatred and bigotry.”
Rudin likened Nostra Aetate to the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Since the “purging” of the “teaching of contempt” about Jews and Judaism from textbooks and increasingly, from prayers — set into motion by Nostra Aetate — many people “cannot remember the animus that once characterized relations” between Catholics and Jews.
Rabbi Leon Klenicki, director of the Interfaith Affairs Department of the Anti-Defamation League, said Jews and Christians shared the mission “to witness God in a world devoid of God, where there is a new paganism denying basic human rights and the right to believe in God.”
The six Jewish organizations which sponsored the meeting were the AJCommittee, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, New York Board of Rabbis, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the Zionist Organization of America.