In Paris, Jews and Catholics Say It’s Time to Reach out to Muslims

Relations between Jews and Catholics in Europe have never been so good — but now it’s time to reach out to Muslims. That was the message at the third European conference of Jews and Catholics in Paris, held Sunday in Paris’ City Hall.

The conference was organized by the European Jewish Congress to mark the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church’s formal apology for its poor treatment of other religious groups, including Jews, over the ages. The Nostra Aetate document marked the formal repudiation of church teachings blaming Jews for the death of Jesus.

The conference examined anti-Semitism today, discussed major changes in the church since Nostra Aetate and paid tribute to the late Pope John Paul II.

It also shed light on a humanitarian project to manufacture and distribute drugs for AIDS-related diseases and malaria in Africa. Cumvivium, a Catholic association, is trying to manufacture drugs in Gabon, and talks reportedly are underway to involve Israel’s Teva Pharmaceuticals, a major manufacturer of generic drugs.

Many speakers at the conference noted how markedly relations between European Christians and Jews have improved since the Holocaust.

“The history of Jews in Paris is an old one. There have been good moments and bad moments, but the fight against anti-Semitism is still here,” said Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris. “We must replace disdain with respect, jealousy with gratitude, and animosity with friendship.”

Now that Jews and Catholics have improved their relations, it’s time to reach out to Muslims, several speakers said.

“Until we learn to work with Muslims, our work will be a failure,” said Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress. “The children of Judah and Joseph must work with the children of Ishmael.”

Pierre Besnainou, president of the European Jewish Congress, opened the conference with a nod to his North African origins.

“I belong to the generation that did not know the Shoah,” said Besnainou, 50. “I learned to cohabitate with Arab Muslims growing up in Tunisia, and I have learned to live with French Catholics here in France over the past 30 years. If my personal situation indicates anything, I am optimistic. Jews and Catholics are okay; now it’s time to improve things with Muslims.”

Improving Muslim-Jewish relations in France has become one of Besnainou’s priorities at the EJC. Those relations are being examined closely after weeks of rioting by mostly Arab and African youths across France.

“There are fewer differences between Catholicism and Judaism than those that separate both from Islam,” said Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a former Paris archbishop who was born Jewish in Poland but raised Catholic by a family that saved him from the Holocaust.

Several speakers hammered home that message.

“I think we all got the message: We are all brothers,” noted David Fuchs, secretary general of Cercle Bernard Lazare, a left-wing Jewish association. “Now that message has to spread beyond Jews and Catholics.”

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