Vatican’s WWII archives reveal complex picture, ‘flawed characters,’ says expert

November 13, 2020


by Gina Christian


Recently unsealed Vatican archives on World War II and Pope Pius XII will ultimately provide “a very complex picture with a lot of flawed characters on all sides,” according to an acclaimed researcher.

Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of international academic programs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed documents from the Vatican’s newly opened Pope Pius XII archives in October 2020. (Zoom/Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations)

Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of international academic programs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), shared her insights during a Nov. 9 webinar hosted 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.

The talk took place on the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht (German for “Crystal Night”), a Nazi-ordered attack on Jewish persons and property throughout Germany that resulted in the destruction of more than 1,000 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish businesses. At least 100 Jews were killed outright, with another 30,000 men aged 16 to 60 arrested and deported to concentration camps.

The 1938 pogrom — widely considered the opening of the Shoah, the preferred Hebrew term for the Holocaust – was marked by a moment of silence prior to Brown-Fleming’s presentation.


Sources of ‘Fratelli Tutti,’ the Encyclical of Pope Francis

October 23, 2020
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, October 23, 2020, p. 2.]

55 Years after Nostra Aetate

by Abraham Skorka

At the beginning of October, Pope Francis presented his encyclical Fratelli tutti to the world. His message, which is a call to a human brotherhood and sisterhood that excludes no one, is rooted in the vision of the Hebrew prophets. Beginning with the generation of Amos, Isaiah, Hosea and Micah, the prophets envisioned a time when people would no longer raise swords against one another. Instead, every people would in their own way acknowledge the Creator who expects justice and love from all humanity. This vision also informed the later development of both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism and surely inspired the Pope at this critical moment in world history.

The prophet Isaiah as depicted by Raphael in the basilica of Sant’Agostino in Campo Marzio in Rome

One of the central themes of the encyclical is a phrase that Francis highly values: “dialogue with the other.” The Pope calls on a fragmented humanity to see itself as a unity, as a family. He offers a powerful reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan to convey the crucial lesson that COVID-19 is also teaching us: the urgent need to overcome divisions through encounters and dialogues that lead to knowledge and affection among peoples.

The post-New Testament rabbinic tradition developed similar ideas. The midrash Bereishit Rabbah, 24 tells about a difference of opinion between the sage Shimon Ben Azzai and the famous Rabbi Akiva. Akiva said that the biblical verse Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is the fundamental principle of the Torah, that is, it sums up its essence. Ben Azzai held instead that the verse Genesis 5:1, “This is the account of Adam’s family line—on the day that God created humankind, God made it in God’s likeness”, better summarizes the Torah. Some 250 years later, Rabbi Tanchuma expounded upon Ben Azzai’s position. If one relied only on Leviticus 19:18, he explained, they might wrongly say “Since I am scorned, I should scorn my fellow as well; since I have been cursed, I will curse my fellow as well.” But, said Tanchumah, “if you act thus, realize who it is that you are willing to have humiliated— ‘the one who was made in the likeness of God.’” In other words, we must see the radiance of God in the face of our neighbor.


Lessons from Catholic-Jewish relations a model for healing division, say experts

October 15, 2020


By Gina Christian


In a Sept. 2020 webinar, Rabbi David Straus (left), senior rabbi of Main Line Reform Temple and a consultant to the U.S. bishops, and Father Walter Kedjierski, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said that Catholic-Jewish relations can serve as a model for healing other societal divisions. ( composite photo/Yael Pachino Photography/CNS Photo-Gregory A. Shemitz)

Amid multiple crises such as COVID, racism and antisemitism, “many if not all of us have been tempted at times to fall into the darkness of despair,” said Father Walter Kedjierski, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

But the fact that many Catholics would now find it “unthinkable” to “(walk) away from friendships with Jewish people” is a sign that “we have grown in our respect for each other,” proving that broader change is possible, he said.

Father Kedjierski shared his insights during a recent webinar hosted by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) at St. Joseph’s University.

Last month, the IJCR hosted “Dialogue as an ‘Exchange of Gifts:’ How the Catholic-Jewish Rapprochement Can Enrich American Society,” with Father Kedjierski and fellow presenter Rabbi David Straus reflecting on the hope offered by an ongoing conversation between the two faith traditions.

IJCR co-directors Philip Cunningham and Adam Gregerman moderated the hour-long Sept. 14 webinar, one of several presented by the institute on a regular basis with national and international speakers.


Looking Back on Pope Francis’ Visit to Hawk Hill

October 2, 2020

by Erin O’Boyle


Five years ago, on Sept. 27, 2015, Pope Francis made a surprise visit to Hawk Hill during his trip to Philadelphia. During his time on campus, he blessed the Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time sculpture located in front of the Chapel of Saint Joseph, which celebrates Catholics engaging with and learning about non-Christian traditions. We spoke with Daniel Joyce, S.J. ’88, executive director of mission programs, and Katie Oxx, Ph.D., associate professor of theology and religious studies, and asked them to reflect on the importance of the Pope’s visit then, and how it still resonates today. An edited transcript of the conversations follow. 

Five years later, what is the significance of the Pope’s visit?

Daniel Joyce, S.J.: When he came to campus, Pope Francis blessed the Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time sculpture on our campus – a sculpture that depicts Jews and Christians sharing and learning from each other’s texts. St. Joe’s culture encourages interfaith dialogues and communication. The Pope’s actions that day were statements: He wanted to offer recognition for what we do here, for encouraging interfaith dialogues.

Katie Oxx, Ph.D.: The significance of the Pope’s visit to St. Joe’s in 2015 is a timely and poignant reminder of his message then and since. It’s especially important now for us to remember that Pope Francis came here to bless Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document which transformed the relationship between Jews and Catholics, and inspired the founding of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations here at St. Joe’s.

Joyce: Saint Joseph’s requires all students take a course in Catholicism and [one on a] a non-Christian religion as a foundational part of our Jesuit education. Our theology department uses [the Pope’s] writing in its courses, and our science department studies his letter on climate change.

SJU Marks Five Years Since Pope Francis’ Visit

September 28, 2020

SJU President Dr. Mark Reed welcomes Pope Francis to Hawk Hill, Sept. 27, 2015.

September 28, 2020

Yesterday marked the five-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ visit to Saint Joseph’s, an occasion that was remembered in Sunday’s Mass. The Holy Father, who was in town for the World Meeting of Families Congress, blessed the University’s “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” statue, which celebrates the University’s commitment to Jewish-Catholic relations — a commitment shared by the pope.

President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D., reflected on the pope’s leadership, faith and compassion: “Since his election, the Holy Father inspired us in so many ways. His ministry and leadership style have been a topic of discussion and an example in our classrooms. He has reenergized and strengthened our student body in their Catholic faith. And he has reminded all of us of the power of humility and compassion.”

As we reminisce, we also look back on Pope Francis’ discussion with Visiting University Professor Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Ph.D., on the publication of On Heaven and Earth, a book offering Jewish and Catholic perspectives on important topics including God, religion and politics, and we reflect on the first five years of Francis’ papacy.

See also: Looking Back on Pope Francis’ Visit to Hawk Hill

Local News Jewish New Year a call for community amid COVID, says local scholar

September 18, 2020


by Gina Christian

September 18, 2020

As the Jewish community celebrates Rosh Hashanah, a rabbi and close friend of Pope Francis has called for a renewed understanding of humanity’s interconnectedness.

Pope Francis greets Rabbi Abraham Skorka during a meeting with an interreligious group of scholars at the Vatican Feb. 23, 2017. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

Writing in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Rabbi Abraham Skorka said the coronavirus pandemic had shown “we all share the same travails in this earthly reality,” and that “the destiny of each one of is inextricably linked to that of everyone else.”

An acclaimed scholar, Rabbi Skorka has most recently been a visiting professor at 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.

Rabbi Skorka’s reflection, “The ‘Days of Awe’ and COVID-19,” was published Sept. 18, the start of the 2020 observance of Rosh Hashanah, which concludes at sundown on Sept. 20. (more…)

The “Days of Awe” and COVID-19

September 17, 2020
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, September 18, 2020, p. 7.]


Reflections on the Jewish New Year 5781

by Abraham Skorka

Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia


Ritual prayers in Judaism, with a few rare exceptions, are composed in the plural. The individual brings his or her own feelings to the prayer, but the act of offering them to God is done as a member of the community. That is why the Jewish tradition so highly values ​​communal prayer (Berachot 8,a); only when the people are gathered together are prayers offered in their fullness.

This year, unlike others, the assembling of the Jewish people in synagogues to mark the start of a new year will be constrained because of the social distancing demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gathering with others, joining together in singing, echoing the same prayers, and sharing common feelings at this time of year will all be curtailed. The companionship we find in each other will need to be found more in the mind and heart since physical closeness will be lacking.

According to ancient Jewish tradition, the “Days of Awe” (Yamim Noraim), which include Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), is the time when God judges all humanity, both individually and as peoples. It is the time for the critical self-analysis of our lives and existence. This self-review is called Cheshbon HaNefesh, a reckoning of one’s being, which is similar to what Catholics call an “examination of conscience”. This self-examination, of course, greatly concerns our relationship with others. The distancing compelled by the virus will require us to conduct a deeper inward search as we examine our behaviors toward others. Prayers that cannot be offered in community could lead the individual Jew to spend more time in introspective reflection. Perhaps this is actually a positive side-effect of the pandemic, enabling each of us to draw closer to how God sees us in these days of divine judgment.


Jewish-Catholic Institute Promotes Understanding

September 3, 2020


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.


Archbishop, rabbi see progress in Jewish-Catholic relations

August 5, 2020


By Gina Christian


Rabbi Abraham Skorka greets newly installed Archbishop Nelson Perez during a Feb. 18 Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. (Photo by Sarah Webb)

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…)

Christians, Jews recall key meeting to heal ancient wounds

June 17, 2020



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…)