U.S. Catholic Bishops Denounce Wave of Antisemitic Assaults

May 28, 2021

With the recent upsurge in antisemitic incidents, including violence, across the country, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis, chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, issued the following statement on May 26, 2021. It reiterates the bishops’ constant call for American Catholics to promote a culture that rejects all forms of hatred.

In keeping with the Jesuit and Catholic mission of Saint Joseph’s University, from which flows the mission of its Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, both the University and the Institute join in the bishops’ appeal for interreligious solidarity. In the words of Pope Francis, “May the Lord help us to extinguish the outbreaks of hatred that develop in our societies, strengthening the sense of humanity, respect for life, moral and civil values, and the holy fear of God, who is Love and Father of all.”


Words, Weapons, and the Ways of Peace

May 19, 2021

[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, May 19, 2021, p. 3.]

by Abraham Skorka

On April 15, a particularly important meeting organized by the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations took place in Geneva. It gathered representatives of international and religious institutions, together with high-ranking Vatican dignitaries, to study the implications of the latest encyclical by Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti. The participants considered it to be an exceptional document, a desperate appeal to all humankind in difficult times, including a devastating pandemic.

When reading the encyclical for the first time, I found myself hoping that its spirit and vision would become a reality in the world, that it would sensitize powerful leaders, whose decisions affect the destinies of billions of people scattered around the globe, to the real needs of human beings and of the planet.

The central focus of the encyclical is the need to care for the world and to inspire its inhabitants to love one another. This is, of course, a defining vision that is found in many verses of the Hebrew Bible shared by Jews and Christians. The encyclical considers these overarching needs in the context of the global pandemic as well as the violent outbursts that set people against one another in various places.

In these days we are witnessing a new conflict in the Middle East, in which bombs and missiles silence words of peace and reconciliation. Who will give life to those who are slain? Who will give back the joy of living to families who lose their loved ones? (more…)

“Refuse to turn away” from terrors of genocide, say local scholars

April 9, 2021




by Gina Christian

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a call to “refuse to turn our eyes away from (the) terrors” of genocide, said scholars from the Institute of Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) at Saint Joseph’s University.

Founded in 1967, the IJCR is the oldest university center of its kind in the U.S. created in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for increased interfaith dialogue.

The institute’s directors, professors Philip Cunningham and Adam Gregerman, recently reflected on the annual commemoration, which fell this year on April 8.

Also known as Yom Hashoah, the observance corresponds to the dates of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an April-May 1943 armed resistance by Jews to the Nazi regime.

Ghettos, segregated sectors within the Polish capital and in several other Nazi-occupied cities, were created as part of a systematic program to annihilate the European Jewish population, six million of whom were ultimately slaughtered in the Shoah, the preferred Hebrew term for the Holocaust. (more…)

Passover and Easter: Freedom and Responsibility

March 30, 2021
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, April 2, 2021, pp. 1 and 7.]

by Abraham Skorka

The great lesson of the biblical account of the liberation and exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt centers on the concept of freedom. There is a biblical verse that clearly defines it. At the end of his days, Moses summons the younger generation to renew the covenant with God that had been made by their ancestors. As presented in the Book of Deuteronomy, his listeners were the people who were to overcome Canaan, settle there, and establish a society in which the rules and laws they had received in the desert should be implemented. They were a generation who had been born in freedom and who, unlike their parents, had not been traumatized by enslavement. Moses admonishes them to fulfill the precepts that God had commanded them, proclaiming very significantly that they have become the people of the One and Only God, who maintains covenantal fidelity with those who love God and keep the commandments of God (Deuteronomy 27:9). Freedom is not merely leaving the condition of enslavement. This is necessary but is insufficient for a fully dignified existence. There must also be a commitment to transcendent values ​​that enable former slaves from remaining enslaved to their own passions and selfishness.

These values include serving God by caring for Creation and by respecting and loving the other human beings with whom life is shared. The covenanted people must also not idolize the deified projections of human instincts, or consecrate themselves to the ways of deified human dictators such as Pharaoh or Caesar or the despots of the last century or today. This is the challenge presented by God to those freed from the Egyptian yoke.

Among other commands, Chapter 25 of Leviticus presents laws about how resources and goods should be distributed in ancient Israel. Ownership of the ancestral family land had to preserved. When someone fell into poverty and had to serve another for their livelihood, his relatives and friends had to rescue him from such a situation. The basis for all such laws is found in the last verse of the chapter: “Because the Children of Israel are servants to Me, My servants whom I have freed from the land out of Egypt. I the Lord am your God.” (more…)

Passover invites Christians to recognize their Jewish roots

March 27, 2021



by Gina Christian

Passover invites Christians to recognize Jesus’ Jewishness, and their own “close kinship with Jesus’ Jewish brothers and sisters.”

That’s according to professors Philip Cunningham and Adam Gregerman, who co-direct the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University.

Founded in 1967, the IJCR is the oldest university center of its kind in the U.S. created in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for increased interfaith dialogue.

Celebrated each spring, the Jewish holiday of Passover commemorates the divine liberation of the ancient Israelites from enslavement in Egypt, as recounted in the book of Exodus. For eight days (seven in Israel), Jews abstain from food or drink with leavened grain, while gathering at their homes for one to two seders, or ritual meals.

Following a traditional sequence set down by Jewish rabbis in the fifth and sixth centuries, the seder (from the Hebrew word for “order”) recalls the events of the Israelites’ captivity and deliverance through symbolic foods, wine, Scriptural passages, prayers and songs.


Antisemitism: The ‘oldest hatred’ persists and resurges still today

March 26, 2021



by Therese Horvat, special to The Leaven

Across the centuries, the Jewish people have been viewed as the “other.” They have been blamed as scapegoats for Jesus’ crucifixion, the Black Death, war and struggling economies.

Based on unfounded conspiracy theories and fabricated claims of racial inferiority, Jews have suffered harassment, exclusion, violence and genocide. Christians, Catholics, Fathers of the Church, Nazis, white supremacists, and leaders and individuals given to stereotyping and to inaction have been complicit in what is called “the oldest hatred” that persists still today.

This year as the Christian observance of Holy Week coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover, this sacred season presents a timely opportunity to probe the history and resurgence of antisemitism, and to identify ways to counter this age-old prejudice.

Origins of antisemitism date back millennia           

Philip Cunningham, Ph.D., is a professor of theology and the director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He explains that even before the concepts of anti-Judaism and antisemitism existed, there was in ancient times opposition to the religious beliefs and culture of Jews, or people from Judea. The Jews resisted assimilation into the Greco-Roman cultures. They were monotheistic, considered other gods false and refused to worship them.

Jesus was a Jew in a world dominated by the Roman Empire that tolerated Judaism. Cunningham says that because of Jesus’ teachings, the Roman overlords perceived him as someone planning an insurrection.


How to Counter Antisemitism

March 26, 2021



by Therese Horvat, special to The Leaven 

How can Catholics, Christians and others who may not even know Jews counter antisemitism and advance what Pope Francis calls “the journey of friendship”?

Philip Cunningham, Ph.D., professor of theology and director of the Institute for Jewish- Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, suggests that individuals should be aware of personally held stereotypes and use of language deemed harmless but laden with antisemitism — for example, the phrase “Jewing people down.”

He encourages that upon hearing an antisemitic statement, persons should call this out and not let it pass. He believes the Catholic Church should re-evaluate hymn lyrics and homily hints through the lens of sensitivity to Jews and Judaism.


Eight Years after the Election of Pope Francis

March 12, 2021
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, March 12, 2021, pp. 1 and 8.]

by Abraham Skorka

March 13 marks the eighth anniversary of the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th pope of the Catholic Church. Since then he has traveled a long and winding path with many challenges along the way.

Although since 2013 I have many times offered my own perspectives about the thinking and actions of Pope Francis, today what comes into my heart and mind are only affectionate memories. I think of Buenos Aires, Rome, Jerusalem, Auschwitz, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi. I remember the many dialogues we had: the words, the silences and especially the moments when we could look at each other and be warmed by the spirituality of each other’s souls. Such are my feelings when I look back over the years.

The appeal and credibility of a genuine leader, a servant leader, resides in the sincerity and honesty of the person. Whether their words will stand the test of time depends on the integrity and truthfulness of what they say. When I came to know Jorge Bergoglio in our native Buenos Aires, I was edified by the humility, simplicity, and straightforwardness of his person and his ministry. I remember our personal encounters. We shared joys, hopes, sorrows, afflictions, and deep feelings. The Jewish sages teach that it is in such authentic friendship that one fully opens the heart to the other (Sifre Devarim, Nitzavim, 305).

It seems to me that those same virtues continue to be reflected in his words and actions in the important position he now occupies.

Our first conversation after his election as pope was on the eve of his coronation. He almost apologetically expressed regret at not being able to continue sharing those moments that we used to enjoy of heartfelt reflection and the planning of projects. Blessedly, our friendship has continued from afar. (more…)

Jews, Christians can learn from their shared Scriptures, say scholars

February 10, 2021



by Gina Christian

Jews and Christians can learn from each other’s shared Scriptures, say two renowned academics — and such dialogue can help to move a divisive society “from polemic to possibility.”

“At a time of tremendous incivility in the U.S., we felt it was really important to model how one could be civil in the most serious disagreements,” said Bible scholar Marc Zvi Brettler of Duke University during a Jan. 31 webinar hosted by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) at Saint Joseph’s University.

Founded in 1967, the IJCR is the oldest university center of its kind in the U.S. created in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for increased interfaith dialogue.

Brettler joined fellow scholar Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt Divinity School in discussing their recently released book, “The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently.”

Bible scholars Marc Zvi Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine say that Jews and Christians can learn from their shared Scriptures and move from “polemic to possibility” in their relations with each other.

The work builds on their previous collaboration as co-editors of the widely acclaimed “The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” the revised 2017 edition of which both scholars personally presented to Pope Francis in 2019.

That publication, first released in 2011, sparked numerous “emails, letters and calls from readers, from Jews saying, ‘I never knew that Christians thought that,’ and from Christians saying, ‘I never knew Jews thought that,’” Levine said. “We also found that our students had very limited knowledge of each other’s traditions.” (more…)

Remembrance, education needed to prevent genocide, says local scholar

February 1, 2021


by Gina Christian


Decades after millions of European Jews were systematically persecuted and murdered, “constant education” is needed to prevent the genocide of marginalized groups, said a local scholar.

Last week, the United Nations (UN) and its member states marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the Shoah — the preferred term for the killing of 6 million Jews during the Second World War by the Nazi regime.

The date of the annual Jan. 27 observance (which was inaugurated in 2005) recalls the 1945 Soviet liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazis’ largest concentration and death camp. Located in Poland, the site saw at least 1.1 million slain by asphyxiation with poison gas, shooting, starvation and disease. Prisoners (including some 232,000 children) were also routinely subjected to forced labor, sterilization and medical experimentation.

In total, the Shoah “wiped out two thirds of the European Jewish population,” said Philip Cunningham, professor of theology at Saint Joseph’s University and, along with fellow professor Adam Gregerman, director of that school’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR). (more…)