PRAGUE (Sep. 6)
Top-level Jewish and Catholic leaders meeting here issued a joint statement Thursday condemning anti-Semitism as a sin and called for new, concrete measures to reconcile the two faiths.
The members of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee made specific recommendations for curbing the upsurge of anti-Semitism in the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe.
The liaison committee is a joint body of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, or IJCIC, and the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.
The statement, issued following a three-day meeting of the committee — the group’s first full meeting in five years — also confirmed the Vatican’s intention to produce a Catholic document on the historical background of anti-Semitism and its contemporary manifestations, and on the Holocaust.
The statement declares that “certain traditions of Catholic thought, teaching, preaching and practice in the Middle Ages contributed to the creation of anti-Semitism in Western society,” and that “in modern times, many Catholics were not vigilant enough to react against manifestation of anti-Semitism.”
SIN AGAINST GOD
The Catholics at the meeting “condemned anti-Semitism as well as all forms of racism as a sin against God and humanity, and affirmed that one cannot be authentically Christian and engage in anti-Semitism.”
Representatives from 16 countries participated in the meeting, which took place in a building in the historic old Jewish section of the Czechoslovak capital.
The Jewish body IJCIC is composed of B’nai B’rith International, the Israel Interfaith Committee, Synagogue Council of America and the World Jewish Congress.
Rabbi Jack Bemporad, chairman of the Interreligious Affairs Office of the SCA, praised the statement for “context along with a program of action. In a situation where anti-Semitism is making a resurgence, it has a pragmatic, contemporary impact.”
Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, chairman of the Task Force on International Affairs for the SCA, called the statement historic for acknowledging the church’s responsibility “for creating a seabed out of which anti-Semitism flourished in modern times and in which Nazism was bred.”
Underscoring the “new spirit” in Catholic-Jewish relations engendered 25 years ago by the “Nostra Aetate” decree of the Second Vatican Council, the delegates to the conference called for “a deepening of this spirit in Catholic-Jewish relations, a spirit which emphasizes cooperation, mutual understanding and reconciliation.”
Seymour Reich, chairman of IJCIC, said that “for the Jewish participants, it was a good meeting. It accomplished a lot.”
“It is a step forward,” said another participant, Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder of Hebrew University.
The meeting represented the resumption of full, formal, top-level dialogue between the international Jewish community and the Vatican. It had been interrupted for more than three years because of bitter controversy over the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, Pope John Paul II’s meetings with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim and other sensitive issues.
Looking back on this, participants called for “closer and more rapid cooperation and exchange of information” between IJCIC and the Vatican commission, in order “to avoid future misunderstandings and face together trends and concerns within the two communities.”
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Archbishop Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, said, “The atmosphere gives us hope for the future,” adding that he would make a full report of the meeting to the pope on his return to Rome.
The meeting largely focused on the Holocaust and the upsurge of anti-Semitism in Eastern and Central Europe following the ousters of Communist regimes. Discussion included emotionally moving testimony from Jewish and Catholic Holocaust survivors from several countries.
It followed conversations first begun at a meeting between Catholic and Jewish leaders in 1987, at the pope’s summer home in Castel Gandolfo, when the church announced its intention to formulate a document on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
Praising Catholic Jewish cooperation in the United States, the final statement stressed that “systematic efforts must be made to uproot sources of religious anti-Semitism wherever they appear through the publication of texts, priestly training, liturgy and the use of Catholic media.”
Reich of IJCIC said the anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe is “in some cases like Rip Van Winkle reawakening today to find all the bigotry of the 1930s. We want to cut it off at the outset.”
The delegates said the question now remained to get the message down to the level of the individual faithful.
“We are convinced that we have a road to follow. It is a long road, but there is not time to stand by the wayside,” said Archbishop Cassidy.