By Gina Christian
Fifty-five years after the Second Vatican Council, Catholics and Jews continue to strengthen their relationship, as they respond to challenges such as COVID-19 and racism.
That’s according to Archbishop Nelson Perez and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an acclaimed scholar and longtime friend of Pope Francis.
On July 28, Archbishop Perez and Rabbi Skorka sat down for a virtual conversation on “Catholics, Jews and the Issues of Our Time.”
The event was sponsored by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) at St. 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.
Co-sponsoring the webinar were AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey, the Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Moderated by IJCR directors and St. Joseph’s professors Philip Cunningham and Adam Gregerman, the hour-long dialogue surveyed both faiths’ perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic, institutionalized racism, antisemitism and the deepening interactions between Jews and Catholics.
Learning, journeying together
At the start of the conversation, Archbishop Perez described himself as “a son of the Second Vatican Council and … Nostra Aetate.” (more…)
Local and international scholars marked a milestone in Jewish-Christian relations last week, recalling a brief but pivotal meeting between Pope John XXIII and French historian Jules Isaac, who transformed his own persecution as a Jew into a call for healing.
The private audience, which took place on June 13, 1960 between the pope and Professor Isaac, ultimately led to Vatican II’s declaration “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Time”).
The document clarified the Catholic Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions, and affirmed the “spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews” (Nostra Aetate, 4).
Sixty years later, the dialogue between Jews and Christians has progressed but still needs development, according to participants in a June 11 webinar sponsored by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) of St. Joseph’s University and the Cardinal Bea Center for Judaic Studies of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. (more…)
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, June 12, 2020, p. 1.]
The Meeting between Saint John XXIII and Jules Isaac Sixty Years Ago
by Abraham Skorka
Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph´s University, Philadelphia
There are moments in history that change peoples and individuals forever. Many such moments are encounters between people and God or between people and their neighbors. Abraham’s encounter with the Creator in which he heard the command: “Go” (Genesis 12:1) and Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush (Exodus 3) are two biblical examples of very transformative conversations. Another turning point in history occurred sixty years ago, on 13 June 1960, when Prof. Jules Isaac had an audience with Pope Saint John XXIII.
Fifteen years had passed since the end of the Second World War; a new world was coming into being on the ruins and devastation left by the conflagration. The Pope realized that the Catholic Church had to adapt to this new reality if it were to contribute to global needs. So he announced that he would convene a great council of all the world’s bishops, the Second Vatican Council.
At the Vatican’s invitation, thousands of proposals were sent by bishops and theologians for possible topics to be considered by the Council. There were hardly any requests that the Council take up the question of the Shoah and its relation to centuries of anti-Jewish Christian teaching. One exception was an appeal sent by the rector and Jesuit faculty of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. (more…)
[Published in the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire]
THE INTERVIEW by Lucia Capuzzi
Rabbi Skorka, friend of Pope Francis offers “A model the world day of prayer:” The lesson of the COVID emergency? “Only if it is united, can humanity defend life and the whole planet.”
The drama of the coronavirus has forced us to face the tremendous miseries of our time, starting with the limited investments having been made in health and research. It has forced us to deal with our frailty. It has shown us how much of an illusion is our domination over reality. And it showed us how, only united, can humanity defend life, the possibility of surviving on the planet.” And this is the “lesson” of the pandemic that we cannot afford to miss now, as parts of the world begin to emerge from the nightmare. Rabbi Abraham Skorka, biophysicist and writer, longtime rector of the Latin American rabbinical seminary of Buenos Aires, and now professor at the prestigious Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, is convinced of this. Always at the forefront of interreligious dialogue, the rabbi collaborated for a long time with the then archbishop of the Argentine capital, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, his personal friend. (more…)
The directors of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University, Dr. Adam Gregerman and Dr. Philip Cunningham, will be co-editing a special issue of the online, peer-reviewed journal Religions on the theme of “Christian Theologies of Jews and Judaism.” The issue is to be completed by May 1, 2021.
For nearly two millennia, Christian views of Jews and Judaism were almost exclusively critical and even hostile. It was not until the crisis of conscious catalyzed by the Shoah that many Christian communities and theologians began to critique long-unquestioned anti-Jewish Christian teachings. Theologically, the challenge was wide-ranging and included fundamental questions about, for example, how Scripture is read and interpreted, soteriology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and even basic language and terminology.
The co-editors invite scholars to submit proposals or papers that examine particular aspects of the developments in Christian thought in the aftermath of the Shoah. While we welcome submissions that engage biblical, pre-modern, or modern authors and texts, all essays should relate these topics to the dynamic changes that have taken place in Christian theology in the past seventy-five years. Also welcome are submissions employing diverse methodologies, which can be drawn from the fields of theology, religious studies, history, sociology, and others. We especially invite submissions that make constructive theological contributions to the emerging new relationship between Christians and Jews.
For full details, click HERE.
[Unofficial translation from wnp.pl]
John Paul II defined the scope of new relations between Jews and Catholics. We must continue his path of dialogue between nations, nations and religions in the years to come, ‘said Rabbi Abraham Skórka, co-leader of the Institute of Jewish-Christian Relations at the University of St. Joseph in Philadelphia.
In the information provided to PAP by the Jan Karski Society, in connection with the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Karol Wojtyła, a friend of Pope Francis, a theologian of Judaism and a spokesman for the dialogue of Jews and Christians, co-leading the Institute of Jewish-Christian Relations at the University of Saint Joseph in Philadelphia, rabbi prof. Abraham Skórka pointed out the contribution of Pope John Paul II in building relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
He recalled that a few months after his election, on March 12, 1979, he declared: “We recognize with utmost clarity that the path we should follow with the Jewish religious community is the path of fraternal dialogue and fruitful cooperation.” He also noted that John Paul II, as the first pope, visited the synagogue, “where he spoke of the Jews as beloved older brothers of the Church, perhaps thinking of an older brother in the parable of the prodigal son who was always with the Father.” (more…)
As part of its observance of the centenary of the birth of Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, the Polish Catholic News Agency, KAI, included the following essay by Rabbi Skorka. This is the English original text from which the published Polish translation was taken, with slight editing.
May 18, 2020 | 03:00 Waldemar Piasecki (KAI New York) Philadelphia
On the occasion today of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Karol Wojtyla, who entered history as Pope John Paul II, and after his death was placed on the altars of the Church as a saint, we publish here a statement given to the KAI [Catholic News Agency] by a close friend of Pope Francis, Rabbi Professor Abraham Skorka. He is a prominent theologian of Judaism and spokesperson for the dialogue between Christians and Jews, and today is part of the leadership team of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of the renowned Jesuit university of St. Joseph in Philadelphia.
Perhaps it was the will of divine Providence that a son of Poland, Karol Wojtyla, would devote much of his long pontificate as John Paul II to building a new relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
Within months of his election, he declared “that we recognize with utmost clarity that the path along which we should proceed with the Jewish religious community is one of fraternal dialogue and fruitful collaboration” (12 March 1979).
It was the first pope from Poland who became the first pope to visit a synagogue, where he spoke of Jews as the Church’s beloved elder brothers (13 April 1986)—perhaps thinking of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who was always with the Father (Luke 15:31).
He was the first pope to visit both Auschwitz (7 June 1979) and Yad Vashem, where he gave “homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust” (23 March 2000). (more…)
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, April 9, 2020, pp. 1, 8.]
Celebrating Easter and Passover during a Pandemic
by Abraham Skorka
In recent months, a simple genetic mutation in a virus has caused a global crisis. Everyday plans have had to be changed, the options that postmodern life usually offers were drastically reduced, and many have been shaken by not being in control of their lives. In addition to those severely ailing from the COVID-19 virus, many people are falling through inadequate social safety nets. Cries for solidarity with the suffering multiply, reminding us to be united in our common humanity in the face of a menace that does not distinguish among peoples, nations or socio-economic groups. Humanity is challenged to set aside greed and selfishness for the greater common good.
For Jews and Christians, this idea is especially relevant at this time of year. Both Passover and Easter refer us to the biblical accounts in the book of Exodus about the slavery of the ancient Hebrews in Egypt and their redemption by God. These narratives depict the Creator as the judge of pagan deities (Exodus 12:12; Numbers 33: 4), of the idols upon which the despotic power of the Pharaoh was based. It seems that today the idol of assuming that we are in charge of everything or that any problem is easily solved is collapsing.
[Published in The Algemeiner]
The Italian Catholic painter whose artistic rendering of a medieval blood libel caused a storm of protest in the Jewish community last week is winning over some supporters notwithstanding.
An editorial published on Wednesday in the Italian newspaper L’Quotidiano Italiano praised artist Giovanni Gasparro’s creation — titled “The Martyrdom of St. Simon of Trento by Jewish Ritual Murder” — as “objectively a masterpiece.”
The paper, which serves the Adriatic port city of Bari where Gasparro resides, described the painter as an “internationally-renowned artist,” noting as well that “ecclesiastical bodies” of the Catholic Church were among those who had purchased Gasparro’s works in the past.
Critically, the editorial defended the historical veracity of the blood libel episode depicted in Gasparro’s painting — which features stereotypically-lurid Jewish characters crowding around a terrified infant as they drain his blood.
In March 1475, the discovery of the body of a missing child named Simon in the Italian city of Trento, supposedly in the cellar of a local Jew, led to the entire Jewish community being charged with the “blood libel” — the false accusation that Jews used the blood of Christian children for religious rituals. The result was an anti-Jewish frenzy in which Jewish men, women and children alike were tortured and beaten, and the leaders of the community burned at the stake following a show trial.
But as one leading American Catholic academic pointed out in an extensive interview on Wednesday, unlike the long-ago spurned charge of “deicide” — collective Jewish responsibility for the execution of Jesus by the Roman authorities — historically the 900-year-old blood libel was never endorsed by Catholic teachings.
“This particular accusation of Jews killing Christian children was never a church teaching or doctrine, and was rejected even by Popes during the medieval period,” Prof. Philip Cunningham — director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia — told The Algemeiner. (more…)
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, February 29, 2020, p. 1.]
Documents related to the Second World War
by Abraham Skorka
Emet and Emunah, truth and faith, have the same three Hebrew letters at their root (alef – mem – nun), from which derive other Hebrew words that refer to security, stability, power and trust (omnah, meheiman, etc). In Psalms 31:6 we read: “Into Your hands I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth”. Rabbi Ḥanina, one of the Talmudic sages, said: “The Seal of the Holy One, blessed be He, is Truth” (b. Yoma 69b). Truth is used in many places in Jewish sacred literature to define a primary characteristic of God. And truth is also what God requires from human beings, as was declared by the prophet Zechariah (8:16): “Speak the truth to one another”. Maimonides likewise holds up Abraham as a model in searching for truth when he rejected the paganism of his own society and began serving the One True God (Yad, Avodat Kokhavim 1). In the Jewish tradition, therefore, the knowledge of truth is crucial to all aspects of life—scientific, ethical, and existential. It is essential for the growth of faith.
I recalled these concepts recently when reading of the opening in early March of the historical archives of the Holy See for the World War II period. This, in turn, reminded me of something Pope Francis has written: “[We] need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward. Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves” (Lumen Fidei, 24).
Unsurprisingly, then, Jewish and Christian perspectives converge on seeing truth as paramount. (more…)