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O’connor: Visit to Dachau Was Most ‘compelling Experience in My Life’

May 10, 1985
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Wearing a red yalmulke he had been given only moments earlier, Cardinal-designate John O’Connor told some 2,500 members and guests of Sutton Place Synagogue that his visit to Dachau was “the most compelling experience of my life.”

O’Connor, who flies to Rome next week for his investiture as a Prince of the Church, was warmly received by the Jewish audience in the opening event of the synagogue’s Jewish Town Hall series. It was his first appearance in a synagogue since becoming Archbishop of New York over a year ago. Asked by Rabbi David Kahane of Sutton Place Synagogue, who conducted the interview, to comment on the results of President Reagan’s visit to Germany, O’Connor replied:

“Perhaps some good did come from it after all. President Reagan seems to have understood more deeply the agony of the Jewish people. But we must continue to make clear to him that it was a mistake to go to Bitburg and that he and all of us must continue to remember what happened in the Holocaust.”

The Catholic leader called the Holocaust” a mystery that can never be washed away, any more than the Crucifixion can be washed away. Let it be seared into every heart and every being, so that each of us will remember to look at every other human as someone made in the image and likeness of God.”

IMPORTANCE OF RALLIES FOR SOVIET JEWRY

In response to a question on the effectiveness of demonstrations for Soviet Jewry, O’Connor replied: “These demonstrations are tremendously important because their ultimate impact is in Washington. We must make it consistently clear that the Soviet Jewry movement in this country is a serious matter, and that our government must respond. This is a valid and legitimate way to influence the makers of public policy– and we must never falter.”

The Cardinal-designate had greeted Soviet Jewry marchers from the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the Soviet Jewry Solidarity Day demonstration Sunday.

VIEW OF CATHOLIC-JEWISH RELATIONS

On Catholic-Jewish relations, O’Connor said he was “gratified but not satisfied” at the progress made since the Vatican Council acted 20 years ago in issuing “Nostra Aetate.”

“We have come far, but there is still far to go” in strengthening understanding between Jews and Catholics the Catholics prelate told Kahane. He continued: “We Catholics have a major responsibility to stop playing games and come to grips with the reality of our teaching. If we are really to be Catholics, we must recognize the value, the authenticity and the reality of Judaism.

“Catholicism flowered out of Judaism, Catholicism is rooted in Judaism. To be a closet hater of Jews, or to discriminate against Jews, is profoundly sinful. That is the lesson of Nostra Aetate and that is what we must emphasize in our own Catholic teachings.”

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