A Conversation that Changed History
The Meeting of Saint Pope John XXIII and Professor Jules Isaac, June 13, 1960
Professor Jules Isaac was an esteemed French historian and educational leader by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. When in 1940 the Vichy government imposed antisemitic policies modelled on Nazi legislation, he began studying what he came to call the Christian “teaching of contempt” for Jews. During his research he suffered the loss of his wife Laure and daughter Juliette to the Auschwitz gas chambers, but was urged by Laure to persist in his labors in a note she managed to send: “take care of yourself, have confidence and finish your work, the world is waiting for it.” In 1947, he published the important 600-page work Jésus et Israel. He brought the manuscript with him to the “Emergency Conference on Antisemitism” held that year in Seelisberg, Switzerland, which largely shaped the influential “Ten Points of Seelisberg” that the conference issued.
After newly elected Pope John XXIII announced on January 25, 1959 the convening of the Second Vatican Council, Isaac worked with the French ambassador to the Holy See to arrange an audience. Thus, on June 13, 1960, Isaac met privately with the pope to present his research and to request that a subcommittee be appointed to examine Catholic teaching about Jews in preparation for the Council. As they parted, Isaac asked if he could take away “a glimmer of hope.” Good Pope John exclaimed, “You are entitled to more than a hope!” (more…)
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, September 30, 2019, p. 6.]
By Abraham Skorka
According to Jewish tradition, at the beginning of each Hebrew year God judges every individual, all peoples and nations, and all humanity. The Holy One determines their destinies. But through repentance, prayer, and charity, a severe judgment can be changed. The basis of the celebration of Rosh Hashanah rests upon some key elements of the Jewish faith: the gifts that God has bestowed on each human being of free will and of the ability to regret and amend errors. When a person makes proper use of these capabilities to improve their behavior, God helps them by forgiving their mistakes. The Jewish New Year is the time on the Hebrew calendar when each Jew prays for himself or herself and for all humankind that everyone will do what God desires with firm resolution.
In the Torah, this holyday is the day when the Shofar or ram’s horn is blown (Numbers 29:1), according to the rabbinic interpretation of the verse (Rosh Hashanah 33, b). The sounding of the Shofar appears several times in the Bible, but two mentions are especially significant. It is the sound that accompanied the revelation of God to the Jewish people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:19). According to Isaiah 27:13, it will be the sound that all will hear at the time of redemption. These two images are deeply associated with the essence of this holyday. The Jew enters into a special dialogue with the One God who has created everything, who knows the feelings and actions of each individual, who judges with mercy, and who will redeem each one in the future. (more…)
PHILADELPHIA – Dialogue and encounter have been two of the popular buzzwords of the Francis papacy, but for one of the pope’s major interreligious interlocutors, they are more than mere maxims, they are a way of life.
For two decades, Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka have been friends – brothers, in fact – which is how he still addresses his old pal via e-mail or phone calls when they speak.
The two first met in 1997 in Buenos Aires and struck up a friendship initially over sports but one that would lead to a co-authored book and a series of public dialogues on a range of hot button issues from sex to death and everything in between.
Less than 24 hours after the pope returned from Africa – where on the return flight to Rome, Francis said he welcomes honest criticism as a means of dialogue, but sought to distinguish it from his critics who he said are motivated by their political ideologies – I sat down with Skorka in his office at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia where he is now a Professor in the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations to tease out the pope’s words a bit further.
By Claudia McDonnell
Jewish and Catholic leaders met in a spirit of joy and cooperation at a 25th anniversary celebration marking the Vatican’s recognition of the State of Israel. The historic step began with the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, which established diplomatic relations between the Church and the Jewish state. The formal opening took place June 15, 1994.
The June 19 event at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus was sponsored by the Consultation of the National Council of Synagogues and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Cardinal Dolan was one of four panelists who spoke about the significance of the agreement and its transformative effects on Catholic-Jewish relations.
“For both Jews and Christians,” he said, “humanity is on the right path when human agreements mirror the divine will, and that’s what we believe occurred a quarter-century ago, when the leaders of the government of Israel and the Church universal signed an agreement stressing reconciliation, trust, the priority of dialogue—all grounded in human rights and religious liberty.
Also serving on the panel were Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations; Ambassador Dani Dayan, consul general of the Consulate General of Israel in New York; and Adam Gregerman, associate professor of theology and religious studies and co-director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. (more…)
June 21, 2019
NEW YORK – Reflecting on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Israel, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan hailed the occasion as an international achievement that has “quite literally made the world a better place.”
Dolan’s remarks came during a panel discussion on “The Vatican Israel Accords: 25 Years of Progress and Challenge” held at Fordham University on Wednesday, marking the Fundamental Agreement signed between the Holy See and the State of Israel in 1993, leading to full diplomatic relations in 1994.
The event was co-sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Consulate General of Israel in New York, and along with Dolan, speakers included Dani Dayan, Israel’s Consul General in New York; Archbishop Bernardito Auza, papal nuncio to the United Nations; and Dr. Adam Gregerman, the co-director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University.
On June 13, 1960, French historian Jules Isaac arrived at the Vatican for a private audience with St. John XXIII. The octogenarian Jewish professor had researched the centuries-old Christian “teaching of contempt” for Jews ever since his wife and daughter died at Auschwitz.
He hoped that the pontiff would add a discussion of the church’s painful historical relationship with Jews to the agenda of the upcoming Second Vatican Council. Perhaps Isaac apprehensively recalled the 1904 meeting of Pope Pius X with an earlier Jewish petitioner whom the pope had dismissed with the words, “The Jewish religion was the foundation of our own; but it was superseded by the teachings of Christ, and we cannot concede it any further validity.”
However, “Good Pope John,” who as a Vatican ambassador during World War II had helped thousands of Jews escape the Nazis, was supportive and soon gave instructions that relations with Jews be studied by council.
That directive would result in the promulgation in 1965 of the conciliar Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, “Nostra Aetate.” This groundbreaking document repudiated the long Christian practice of demeaning Jews as rejected by God.
It insisted instead that Jews remain beloved by God, that Jesus, Mary and the apostles were all Jews, and that mutual understanding through “biblical and theological studies” and “fraternal dialogues” be pursued.
So began what Pope Francis has called the “journey of friendship” between Catholics and Jews. In the 1960s it was a real question, given their religious differences and inimical history, if it was possible for Jews and Catholics to have any kind of dialogue. It would be a journey that would require a collective examination of conscience by Catholics. (more…)
Dr. Philip Cunningham, professor of theology and religious studies and director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, received SJU’s 2019 Tengelmann Award for Distinguished Research and Teaching. This award may be received only once during a faculty member’s time at Saint Joseph’s University, and is one of the highest honors a professor can receive from the university. The award was presented by University President Dr. Mark C. Reed at commencement on May 18, 2019.
The testimonial read by University Provost Dr. Jeanne Brady stated, “Dr. Cunningham is one of the most prominent scholars in the field of Jewish-Christian relations, having authored seven books and dozens of articles across a wide array of religious and interfaith subjects, including theology, the Bible, religious education and history. He has served on the advisory committee on Catholic-Jewish relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and recently completed a term as president of the International Council of Christians and Jews. International academic achievements notwithstanding, Dr. Cunningham shines most in the classroom, where he demonstrates remarkable skill as a translator of seemingly inscrutable religious texts to the minds of young theologians.”
Historical drama ‘A Rose in Winter’ depicts Saint Stein’s religious awakening and death at Auschwitz as a contemporary cry for universal tolerance
by Rich Tenorio, The Times of Israel
Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Germany in 1891, Edith Stein turned toward Christianity at age 30, finding her calling as a Catholic nun. In a tragic twist on the tale of Queen Esther, Stein urged Pope Pius XI to intervene with Hitler on behalf of the Jews, but was herself ultimately deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis, where she died at age 50 in 1942.
She was named a patron saint of Europe by Pope John Paul II in 1998.
Catholics should lead the response to “displays of negativity and violence” such as the recent synagogue shooting in California, according to one local expert.
Professor Philip Cunningham of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia said that “Christians, and Catholics in particular, have a responsibility to communities” who have historically been targeted by discriminatory rhetoric and actions. “We’ve got to be really vigilant about this,” he said.
Cunningham, a Catholic, is director of the school’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR). 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, which hosted an April 7 interfaith Passover seder, has organized an interfaith service of solidarity that will take place on Tuesday, April 30 at 5 p.m. in front of the Chapel of Saint Joseph on the Saint Joseph’s University campus.
by Steve Brown, The Times of Israel
In 1981, I spent 10 weeks on a traveling fellowship in Europe while in architectural school, fulfilling the very loose directive to go forth and draw. It is a very different notion of travel to sit, draw and think about why and how the choices were made that shape our world. Psalm 115:8 says “Those who make them will become like them”. The things we make not only tell our story but also change us. I began to understand these designers’ intentions, whether to tell about discovery, hope and faith, or of despotism, or a mixture of each. My sketches from the interior of Notre Dame have a note in the margin that says “extremely dark in here”, partially because the ancient stained glass windows, darkened by the soot of the industrial revolution, were yet to be refreshed in a renovation in the nineties, but also from the even darker history captured in Notre Dame’s portals.
I thought I was going to see a tale told in stone, a new form of urbanism, not shaped by walled protections from marauders but a spiritual building placed at the center of a city, and of the use of architecture to tame gravity to open a sacred space to luminous inspiration. Certainly all of that was to be found, but tainted by the crushing animus of the builders of the Cathedral of Notre Dame towards Judaism, which was prominently declared in the statuary of the church’s main portal. Framing the central portal are two larger than life statues of women named “Ecclesia” (the Church) on the left and “Synagoga” for which no Latin scholarship is required, on the right. “Ecclesia” stands proudly, the scepter of a ruler in her hand, a crown on her head, a royal chalice in her right hand. “Synagoga” is portrayed with a menacing bare fanged snake wrapped around her head, blinding her. In her hand are the tablets of the law, falling from her grip. Her head is bent and a crown is crushed at her feet. The designers of the church meant you to understand this message though few visitors today decipher this literal and figurative “handwriting on the wall”. Judaism was represented as crushed, blinded, defeated. This was meant as a religious statement as well as a legal construct.