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First Latin-american Official Catholic-jewish Dialogue Held in Bogota

August 23, 1968
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The first official dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and representatives of the 800,000 Jews of Latin America closed here yesterday on a note of good-will and achievement as this capital prepared for the arrival of Pope Paul VI to attend the International Eucharistic Congress. The ecumenical discussions were organized by the Latin American Bishops’ Council and District 23 of the B’nai B’rith and the Anti-Defamation League. Its purpose was to begin a dialogue on the doctrinal aspects of the two faiths and to develop cooperative programs. One of the major achievements was the development of a series of recommendations to purge Catholic texts and liturgy of anti-Semitic content and to introduce information about the Jews and Israel to Roman Catholic studies.

Rev. Jorge Mejia, of Argentina, secretary of the department of ecumenism of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference, delivered the opening address of the two-day parley in which he assailed anti-Semitism and observed that for the two faiths to meet, “it is necessary to exclude in any form whatsoever attempts at proselytism.” Father Mejia declared that “Catholicism and Judaism, to have dialogue, must begin by mutually accepting each other as religions.”

The sessions were presided over by Rev. Madre Maria Caridad, of Costa Rica and Stanley Fidanque, director of the department of human rights of B’nai B’rith in Panama. Rabbi Leon Klenicki. of Buenos Aires, gave the Jewish view of relations between the two faiths. He spoke of their common roots in the Old Testament and of the persecution suffered by the Jews at the hands of Christians in the Middle Ages. He said that Roman Catholic “silence at times when we urgently needed your voices crying out for justice” made discussion difficult, but added, “the time of hope has arrived. The task is hard but not impossible.”

The first cooperative venture emerging from the dialogue was the publication and mass distribution of a summary of the meeting and text of Father Mejia’s opening speech. Plans were also made to bring the question of the relations between the two faiths before the national council of bishops in the Latin American countries and to bring about the deletion of prejudicial material from textbooks. A textbook revision program is already planned in Argentina where there are 500,000 Jews. It is Jointly sponsored by the Roman Catholic bishops and the Protestant Council of Churches along with Jewish leaders.

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