O’Connor: ‘Remember Me As A Friend’


In what may be his last official Passover message to Jews, John Cardinal O’Connor, the spiritual leader for millions of New York Catholics, sent out a heartfelt letter to Jewish colleagues saying he is ashamed of the hateful actions of Catholics in the past, and asks that he be remembered by Jews as their friend.

The 78-year-old archbishop, who suggests that he will retire early next year, wrote that at Passover, he is reminded of "the steadfast faith of Jews throughout the generations."

"It is a faith which has never diminished nor been destroyed by any enemy of the Jewish people. The reason for this is obvious to me: God promised to set Israel free and make them his own people. God has kept his promise. The Jewish people are free and continue to be a light of hope to the world.

"This is not flattery," Cardinal O’Connor stressed. "It is a deeply felt statement of my own faith." Cardinal O’Connor also highlighted the inextricable link between the two faiths, as does his boss, Pope John Paul II.

"Without Judaism there would be no Christianity," Cardinal O’Connor wrote. "Without Passover there would be no Easter."

The cardinal ends his missive by reflecting that much of the pain felt by Jews throughout history "was inflicted . . . by many of my own co-religionists who rejected love and replaced it with hate. For what they did, I am most ashamed. It is my sincere hope that you will remember me as a friend."

Cardinal O’Connor also joined with Orthodox Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, in calling for reconciliation between Jews and Catholics in the aftermath of the Vatican’s controversial Holocaust document issued last year.

The clergymen noted the juxtaposition on the calendar of Passover, which began March 31, and Easter, held on April 4.

"The proximity of holidays is, perhaps, symbolic of our coming together, though like the reality of the four days that separate the beginning of our celebrations, we still have a path to travel and a way to go."

Conference Explores Italian Jews Hofstra University this week is sponsoring a three-day conference exploring the history and culture of Jews in Italy (the seat of Roman Catholicism) from antiquity to the 20th century.

Topics at the conference, which runs from Wednesday through Friday, include "Why the Holocaust Did Not Happen in Italy"; "Babies, Blessings, Blood: The Accusation of Ritual Homicide and the Italian Jewish Communities in the 18th Century"; "Pope Pius XI’s Conflict with Fascist Italy’s Anti-Semitism and Jewish Policies"; and "The Jerusalem Temple Implements Between 70 C.E. and the Fall of Rome," by Steven Fine, an associate professor of rabbinic literature at Baltimore Hebrew University.

Special sessions include a recital of the poetry of Primo Levi, sampling of Italian Jewish cuisine, and a keynote address on "The Contradictions of Italian Jewish History," by New Yorker staff writer Alexander Stille.

Rabbi Rudin Sponsors Vatican SummitIt’s a big week for Rabbi James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious affairs. On Monday, the Reform rabbi received the Interfaith Gold Medallion of Peace through Dialogue from the International Council of Christians and Jews, based in London. Presenting the award was Sir Sigmund Sternberg, an international leader in interfaith dialogue and winner of the 1998 Templeton Prize, the world’s highest paying award ($1.2 million) for promoting religion and spirituality.

The man known as "Siggy" noted Rabbi Rudin’s 31 years of interfaith work and his seven meetings with Pope John Paul II "which not many people can say.

"Rabbi Rudin said he considers his interfaith work as a "brush with history" and "perhaps an opportunity to shape history, and I’m grateful for it."

Rabbi Rudin also sponsored a day-long conference on Monday, concerning the "Christian Identity" movement. The event featured four religion experts discussing how this movement distorts Christian theology and promotes anti-Semitism and racism through violence.

Also this week, Rabbi Rudin was set to sponsor an unprecedented summit of Jewish interfaith leaders to discuss how the Jewish community should respond to increased criticism by the Vatican.

As reported by The Jewish Week, the Vatican’s top Jewish liaison, Edward Cardinal Cassidy, has declared that he will no longer work with the 30-year-old Jewish coalition known as IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, because of its ties to the World Jewish Congress, the aggressive Jewish advocacy group run by Seagram’s billionaire Edgar Bronfman Sr.

At stake is the nature of future Vatican-Jewish dialogue.Rabbi Rudin and several other major players have indicated that as presently conceived, IJCIC may indeed have outlived its usefulness.

But the question remains as to who will speak for the Jewish community with the Vatican.Should each of the so-called American Jewish defense agencies pursue their own separate conversations, offering a fragmented approach?

Or should there be a unified Jewish response?

That’s what the participants will discuss.

Meanwhile, the Reform and Conservative movements have united and jumped into the fray: at least with regard to the Catholic dialogue in the U.S.

Acting together as the National Council of Synagogues, Reform and Conservative rabbis met recently with U.S. Catholic leaders to discuss social and religious issues of mutual concern, including capital punishment, premarital counseling, the Christian millennium and Jerusalem.

The synagogue group, a remnant of the now-defunct interdenominational Synagogue Council of America, which included Orthodox members, met with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore several weeks ago.

Rabbi Joel Zaiman, a Conservative cleric from Baltimore, said the U.S. interfaith meetings were open, honest and frank.

The synagogue group calls itself "the primary deliberative body of rabbis and lay leaders involved in direct and sustained dialogue with other religious communities at the national level."

"It assumes the role of the former Synagogue Council of America," officials said. "We represent the Jewish community in dialogue with the National Council of Churches of Christ, and plan to engage in serious dialogue with the Muslim community in the U.S. as well as other religious bodies and institutions."

Which leaves the question: What about the Orthodox community?