Jewish-Catholic Institute Promotes Understanding

 

by Jesse Bernstein

 

The Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, a research and educational organization within Saint Joseph’s University, will feature a local rabbi, a researcher from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a new book of essays on Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its fall slate of programs and publications.

It’s a lineup that came about, perhaps unsurprisingly, through collaboration between a Catholic and a Jew. After all, the IJCR is dedicated to deepening understanding between the two groups (and Christians more generally). Philip Cunningham, a professor of theology at St. Joe’s, and Adam Gregerman, who focuses on Jewish studies within its Department of Theology and Religious Studies, together lead the IJCR, as director and associate director.

The programming offered by the IJCR in 2020, Cunningham said, is aimed at something different than that of the institute’s early days. The IJCR was founded in 1967, just two years after the Roman Catholic Church had decreed its intention to embrace Jews and reject anti-Semitism. For many years, Cunningham said, IJCR’s programming was simply focused on teaching Catholics and Jews how to talk to one another.

“It’s really only in the past decade, more or less, that we now are really honing in on how we can learn from each other’s different religious perceptions,” Cunningham said.

Today, the institute’s programs draw interest both within and outside the university.

“We’ve been really pleased to have good responses from the local community, and particularly the Jewish community, which is wonderful for a Jesuit university,” said Gregerman.

People gather at an interfaith solidarity event held by IJCR after the shootings in Pittsburgh, New Zealand and Poway, California. | Courtesy of St. Joseph’s University

This fall’s programs and publication were chosen with those centuries of strife in mind, according to Cunningham and Gregerman, alongside an awareness of growing polarization along religious and ethnic lines worldwide.

On Sept. 14, Main Line Reform Temple Senior Rabbi David Straus will join Rev. Dr. Walter F. Kedjierski, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for an online conversation about what Pope Francis has deemed the post-World War II “journey of friendship” between Catholics and Jews. The conversation between the two men will mirror the mission of the Institute, as Straus and Kedjierski will consider how the “journey” could serve as a model for improving intergroup conflict.

Straus, who has long been involved in interfaith work, hopes to see discussions about intergroup conflict teach rapprochement — the pursuit of more cordial relations — as a more worthy goal than that of tolerance.
“I don’t want to be tolerant,” Straus said. “I really want to celebrate diversity in all of its forms.”

The program is titled “Dialogue as an ‘Exchange of Gifts’: How the Catholic-Jewish Rapprochement Can Enrich American Society.” Registration is available online.

On Nov. 9, Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of international academic programs at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at USHMM, will deliver an online lecture regarding her research into a contentious piece of Catholic-Jewish history. Brown-Fleming, who is Catholic, studies the relationship between Germany and the Vatican during the pontificates of Pius XI and Pius XII, who presided over the Catholic Church between 1922 and 1958.

Due to COVID-19, Brown-Fleming was unable to delve into the newly opened Vatican archives from WWII, which would have informed her lecture. Instead, she will discuss the questions that researchers hope to have answered when they’re able to access the archive — answers that could have implications for Catholic-Jewish relations.

“There’s a lot of healing that still needs to happen, and there’s a lot of dialogue that still needs to happen,” Brown-Fleming said. “And that dialogue needs to be based on rigorous scholarship, on mutual good faith and on respect. And having access to these Vatican archives, that are now truly open to any researcher who wants to see them, that’s a great basis on which to start having this dialogue.”

Her lecture is titled “Questions about the Holocaust the Vatican’s World War II Archives Could Help Answer.” Registration, again, is available online.

Finally, a new book of essays on Israeli-Palestinian issues from an international group of scholars will be published this month.

“Enabling Dialogue About the Land” is a product of a research project supported by IJCR, wherein 16 scholars affiliated with the International Council for Christians and Jews sought to figure out how the aims of that organization might be of use to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The book, co-edited by Cunningham, will be published by Paulist Press.