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Australian Catholics Take Initiative in Forging Good Christian-jewish Ties

Australia has surged to the forefront of Jewish- Christian relations with the publication of a new guide urging Catholics to foster better ties with Jews.

“Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations” was officially launched by Bishop Bede Heather at a ceremony here last week at the Crypt of St. Mary’s Cathedral, in the presence of religious and communal leaders of both communities.

Its publication comes against the background of a warming in relations between the Vatican and Israel and follows guidelines issued by the Vatican for teaching about Jews and Judaism.

Incidents of anti-Semitic violence and an upsurge in Christian fundamentalism also bolstered an initiative to issue the guidelines, according to the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.

Last week, Pope John Paul II denounced the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and said every form of racism was “a sin against God and against man.”

A further incentive may have been a close tie with a Vatican prelate heading church relations with Jews. Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission on Religious Relations with Jews for the past three years, is an Australian.

Modern church scholarship, citing the Jewish roots of Christianity, was reflected in Bishop Heather’s remarks.

He said a “special bond” exists between Catholics and Jews, based on a recent recognition that Catholics can “find Jesus of Nazareth intelligible” only within the context of the Hebrew Scriptures.

He said a “reappraisal” of some elements in the New Testament, and particularly in the Gospels, was taking place, based on the understanding that “parallels to the teachings of Jesus could be found in rabbinic writings.”

The Catholic document criticizes much of the missionary activity directed toward Jews, although Bishop Heather said that “to be Christian is to be called to spread the Gospel.”

A Jewish communal leader welcomed the document as representing “momentous progress” in “the cultivation of an international social conscience.”

Leslie Caplan, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, applauded the developing relationship between the Vatican and Israel and said “recognition (of Israel) is a necessary prerequisite for a substantive relationship with the Jewish world.”

He urged the Catholic Church to support passage of legislation banning incitement to racial hatred. Public opposition to such legislation has been voiced by the Archbishop of Melbourne in his home state of Victoria.

Lauding the new Catholic publication, the Australian Council of Christians and Jews has urged other church groups to issue similar guidelines.

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