PRAGUE (Sep. 3)
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and representatives of world Jewry have gathered here for a long-postponed conference that will discuss the Holocaust and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe in the post-communist era.
The conference, which opened Monday, was preceded by a joint visit to the site of the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Catholics and Jews stood in silence before a memorial to the tens of thousand of victims of the Holocaust who perished in the camp or were taken by the Nazis from there to gas chambers in Poland.
After the visitors recited Kaddish in their memory, Psalm 130 was read in Hebrew by Father Marcel Dubois of Jerusalem, a Catholic member of the International Liaison Committee.
The Catholic-Jewish meeting is the first of its kind in three years.
Contacts between the Vatican Secretariat on Religious Relations With the Jews and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations were suspended for three years because of dissension over the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz.
But the conference here opened Monday in an atmosphere of good will and mutual understanding.
Presiding were Archbishop Edward Cassidy of the Vatican Secretariat and Seymour Reich, chairman of IJCIC, which serves as world Jewry’s official liaison with the Vatican.
Opening addresses were delivered by Bishop Pierre Duprey of the Vatican delegation and by Rabbi Jack Bemporad, interreligious affairs chairman of the Synagogue Council of America.
Both faiths have brought scholars and experts from North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, and Israel to examine the history of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the role of the Catholic Church.
‘WE MUST WORK TOGETHER’
They expect to produce a common document at the conclusion of the four-day meeting that will constitute an action program by the church to combat anti-Semitism, especially in Eastern Europe, where the Vatican has regained a strong influence in the wake of the demise of communism.
In his opening address, Cassidy said, “I am convinced that we cannot speak simply of Christian anti-Semitism, because in themselves, the New Testament and Christianity are not anti-Semitic.
“Nevertheless, as the Second Vatican Council pointed out to all members of the church, we must work together to eliminate all forms of anti-Semitism, objectively examining the historical events and ideological roots of this abhorrent phenomenon.”
Reich credited the Roman Catholic Church with the possibility of playing “a very salutary role in promoting understanding and respect between national and ethnic groups.”
“The Jewish community is gratified that some preliminary steps have been taken by Catholic leaders,” he said, “to unequivocally denounce and actively discourage this trend” of growing anti-Semitism.