(JTA) — Some two dozen Jewish leaders from around the world are in Spain for talks with Catholic Church officials on combating extremism and deepening interfaith cooperation.
“The new pope has generated a lot of excitement on both sides, and we believe there will be a new positive energy,” said Betty Ehrenberg, head of the Jewish delegation to the biennial meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, or ILC, a body set up by the Church in 1971 to serve as its official point of contact with worldwide Jewish communities.
Among the clergymen representing the Church at the four-day conference in Madrid that began Sunday are Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Spain. Madrid Mayor Ana Botella also is attending.
“It is not insignificant that this year’s conference is in Spain because all surveys show actually that in Western Europe, the greatest amount of anti-Semitic ideas seems to prevail in Spain,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international interreligious affairs.
Ehrenberg said that combating anti-Semitism will be a “top item on the agenda” at the meeting.
On Friday, Pope Francis, who replaced Benedict XVI as pope in March, said in a meeting with Jews from Rome that “a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic. May anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and the life of every man and woman.”
Also on the agenda will be countering attempts to ban Jewish and Muslim rituals in Europe, said Rosen, who is also president of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations.
“This will be an opportunity to continue the efforts that Jewish communities have already made in enlisting Christian support on these issues,” he said.