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November 6, 2015  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

50 years after Nostra Aetate, perspectives on Catholic-Jewish relations

By BISHOP ROBERT LYNCH Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg


Rabbi Jacob Luski, right, escorts Bishop Robert Lynch out of the Congregation B’nai Israel sancutary after the bishop’s address. Rabbi Jacob Luski, right, escorts Bishop Robert Lynch out of the Congregation B’nai Israel sancutary after the bishop’s address. On Oct. 21, Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg addressed the community from the bima of Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg. A week later, exactly 50 years after the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate declaration, Rabbi Jacob Luski spoke from the pulpit of St. Jude Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Below are excerpted versions of both their talks.

Among the many gifts that Pope John XXIII, now a saint, provided the Church via his call for aggiornamento, i.e., “renewal”, when he announced the convening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was his guidance in seeking a new disposition on the part of the Church towards our Jewish brothers and sisters…


Bishop Lynch speaking from the bima at Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg Bishop Lynch speaking from the bima at Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg This new attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism outlined in the seminal document we recall this evening outlined for we Catholics a new appreciation for Judaism which can be said to be nothing short of a conversion of heart, mind, theology and Church…

With Nostra Aetate and its inspired renewal of our relations with one another as our springboard, may we now consider some of the advances that the Catholic Church has made towards a teaching of respect toward Judaism in the 50 years since its promulgation. These focal points are by no means exhaustive… rather, highlights which not only illuminate the progress we have made but also shed light on the challenges we still face…

• Increasingly emphasize that Jesus, Mary, the disciples and majority of the early apostles were Jewish so as to accentuate the Jewish origins of Christianity ... Therefore, call for expanded dialogue and joint theological undertakings between the two faiths

• Repudiate characterizations of the Jewish people as Christ-killers with accompanying charges of deicide and/or suggestions that Jews are cursed by God.

• Affirm that the Jewish people remain dear to God for the sake of the patriarchs/matriarchs and maintain that God has not taken back the gifts He bestowed upon the Jewish people nor His choice of them as His people

• Call for an appreciation of the liturgical links between the two traditions and cautions Catholics against liturgical aspects which might present the Jewish people in an unfavorable light

• Affirm the theocentric anthropology and commitment to social justice shared by the two faiths

• Consistently reject anti-Semitism of any kind

The International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) has met regularly since 1970, drawing together the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (including participants from the World Jewish Congress, Synagogue Council of America and American Jewish Committee) together with the Vatican’s Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations in order to improve mutual understanding between the two religious communities and to exchange information pertinent to greater collaboration. A most significant outcome of the work of the ILC is a renewed understanding of the Church’s missionary and evangelization efforts which precludes seeking to proselytize/ convert Jews.

Pope John Paul II

From his 1979 prayers at Auschwitz ... to his 1986 visit to the chief synagogue in Rome (the first pope in history to do so and which spawned a life-long friendship between John Paul and the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff) ... to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Israel in 1993 ... to his prayers for forgiveness offered at Yad Vashem and before the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2000, the late Pope utilized his papacy to help build a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. … Perhaps most powerfully, John Paul II consistently insisted on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people – a covenant, the pope maintained, never revoked! A challenge moving forward entails significant theological inquiry regarding soteriology – theology of redemption and salvation ­– in light of covenantal theology and Christology and understandings of God’s Word... The contemporary theological challenge is one confronted with the challenge of considering how Jews and Christians are united in a single covenantal relationship with God, which is meaningful and salvific to both traditions from their respective experiences and convictions. Moving forward there can be no place for any trace of former supersessionist, replacement or fulfillment theologies and the Christ Event cannot be used in any way which devalues Judaism. Exclusivist covenant language cannot be placed in opposition to God’s creative and redeeming love, which is universal in scope.

Pontifical Biblical Commission

The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scripture (2002) challenges Christian readers to appreciate the dignity of a Jewish reading and understanding of the Bible as well as addresses how Christians ought to address certain New Testament passages which convey anti-Jewish sentiments… Additionally, the document offers an appraisal of messianic expectations within Judaism acknowledging that the messianic character of Jesus was a possible interpretation but not the sole nor necessary interpretation of messianic prophecies, therefore suggesting that Jesus is not the only possible fulfillment of messianic expectations.

The challenge moving forward is empowering each and every person with the wherewithal to critically r e ad, in - terpret and understand Scripture sensitive to issues such as context, climate, culture, respect for respective religious sensitivities, etc….

Local steps toward mutual respect

Closer to home we, too, have experienced the fruits of what Nostra Aetate began. Within the Diocese which I shepherd we have partnered with numerous Jewish communities to advance mutual respect and understanding by teaming with one another in parish/synagogue hosted considerations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Walking God’s Paths (2004) series which draws us together in order to realize Nostra Aetate’s instruction to dialogue and learn from one another.

Walking God’s Paths is a six-session process to stimulate candid conversation between Jewish and Christian congregations… The series enables participants to experience each tradition’s understanding of how it walks God’s path and how the two faith communities could relate to one another in positive ways

The Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops together with the National Council of Synagogues USA and other Jewish bodies have worked together to produce over a dozen documents over the past 35 years alone – Uniting our faith traditions in efforts to promote peace, protect children and the environment, combat religious intolerance, end the death penalty and promote moral education within schools.

A challenge moving forward is maintaining such grassroots efforts as the zeal and fervor of the Vatican II generation wanes. How do we continue to foster and promote continued dialogue whereby we authentically strive to enter into the experience of the other? How do we accentuate our commonly shared commitment to preparing for God’s Kingdom?

We must also broaden our dialogue to include other faiths and people of good will.

A Blessing to one another

In 2008 the Diocese of St. Petersburg helped to sponsor the exhibit: “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” at the Florida Holocaust Museum. The exhibit illustrated the steps Pope Saint John Paul II took to improve the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people noted above, and reflected the continuing relevance of Nostra Aetate.

The Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies

Together with my fellow Bishop from the Diocese of Venice, the late Bishop Jolm J. Nevins, the American Jewish Committee and the Catholic University within our Diocese, Saint Leo University, the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies was established in 1999 with the mission of building mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation between Jews, Catholics, and all people of good will by providing opportunities for interfaith education and dialogue. The objectives of the Center are to educate the public on issues germane to both religions and to foster intellectual discussion, as seen from both points of view.

Together in the spirit of the Hebrew Tikkun Olam (trying to repair/improve the world), the Center models and promotes tolerance, justice, and compassion in a world torn by strife and prejudice among religions and nations. These objectives are met through conferences, town hall meetings, interreligious dialogue, and gatherings of young Jews and Catholics sharing their faith together.

* * *

As the sun more rapidly sets on my privilege of serving my church in the five counties, I see God’s hand in my presence among you this evening. Twenty years ago this coming Jan. 26, Jacob Luski patiently set among an overflow crowd at St. Jude’s Cathedral for my ordination as bishop. He was among the first I greeted. He and Joanne have had me as a guest in their home and at the one child’s wedding I was able to attend. When the moment arrived two years ago for the rededication of the remodeled Cathedral of St. Jude, I came here to learn from the master how to interpret the scripture passage from Nehemiah about the Temple and he taught me well enough that citing my source, I used his material for part of my homily that evening.

I learned from him that one never answers a direct question if one can first tell a story. Above all, he taught me how to be reflective, reconciling, and renewed in understanding contemporary Judaism in America. Little wonder that at my invitation he spent a morning with 75 percent of my priests, which they still remember with fondness and gratitude. For myself, he has been my Rabbi Skorka.

Pope Francis

I think it appropriate that we gather this evening – not only to celebrate the gift that Nostra Aetate has been to our two faiths over the past 50 years and to consider the contemporary challenges which still confront us – but also as we look ahead in the midst of new leadership within the Catholic

Church under Pope Francis … Towards that end, allow me to close with the words of Pope Francis voiced in his first apostolic letter which summarizes succinctly and well the attitude of respect that Nostra Aetate inspired 50 years ago:

247. We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with Godhas never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” (Rom 11 11:29) The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the convenient and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9) With them; we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.

248. Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians….


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