Catholics should lead response to religious violence, says local expert

April 30, 2019





Catholics should lead the response to “displays of negativity and violence” such as the recent synagogue shooting in California, according to one local expert.

St. Joseph’s University professors Adam Gregerman (left) and Philip Cunningham, who direct that school’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, note that politically polarized climates endanger religious and other minorities. (Photos courtesy of Saint Joseph’s University.)

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.


Times of Israel: “Horror and Hope at the Portals of Notre Dame”

April 29, 2019

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.


Passover and Easter: God can and will prevail

April 18, 2019
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, April 18, 2019, p. 1.]

By Abraham Skorka*

The identity of the Jewish people is determined by everything that happened to our ancestors in Egypt: their process of liberation by God, their wandering through the desert, and the revelation and bestowal of the Torah at Sinai.

These events are invoked in Judaism’s daily prayers because they enshrine the heart of Israel.  The priority of freedom, the dignity of the individual, and the spirituality of Jewish culture is powerfully grounded in the celebration of Passover, in Hebrew called Pesach.

The biblical text itself prescribes that year after year the descendants of the Children of Israel must recreate the dinner their ancestors ate in Egypt on the eve of their liberation. Just as on that night thirty-three hundred years ago, so too today one finds on the Passover table unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Parents pass on to their children this story and its moral lessons about human dignity, which each individual must uphold and sustain.


In era of division, they break bread at interfaith seder meal

April 16, 2019

A table is set for an interfaith seder hosted by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at St. Joseph’s University, April 7. (Photo by Gina Christian)

More than 100 area Catholics, Christians and Jews joined to celebrate the common origins of their respective faiths at an April 7 Passover seder hosted by St. Joseph’s University.

The gathering was organized by 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. Additional sponsors of the seder included the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Main Line Reform Temple Beth Elohim and the American Jewish Committee.


Breaking (Unleavened) Bread: How Passover and Easter Can Inform Interfaith Friendship

April 16, 2019

On Sunday, April 21, Christians around the world will observe the most significant holiday on their liturgical calendar: Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the same time, as is often the case, those in the Jewish faith will be in the midst of celebrating a major holiday in Passover, the eight-day commemoration of their ancestors’ liberation by God from slavery in Egypt.

The intersection of the two holidays is far from a coincidence, according to Philip Cunningham, Ph.D., co-director of Saint Joseph’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR).


Rabbis Skorka and Sandberg Interviewed on NBC-TV’s “10 @ issue”

April 14, 2019

On the NBC-TV 10 news program “10 @ issue,” Journalist Erin Coleman interviewed Rabbis Abraham Skorka and Ruth Sandberg on the need for interreligious dialogue to address hate crimes.  Rabbi Skorka is SJU University Professor and Rabbi Sandberg is a Professor at Gratz College and an Institute Board member.

 Watch the video HERE.


SJU Magazine: “Preaching a Personal Approach to Religious Kinship”

March 28, 2019

On Saturday, October 27, a gunman walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire, killing 11 congregants and wounding several others, including four responding police officers.

If that day, which is now considered the deadliest attack against the American Jewish community in history, had been a singular event, it would be bad enough. But according to data released a month later by the FBI, anti-Semitic attacks — harassment, vandalism, intimidation and physical violence — rose by more than a third in 2017 and accounted for more than half of religion-based hate crimes that year. The trends look bleak enough for many to consider that the tenor of relations between Jews and people of other faiths in America is irreparable.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka understands the difficulties, but he sees a hopeful path forward.


Jewish Community Responds to Deadly Mosque Attack

March 20, 2019

By Janet Perez and Liz Spikol

International, national and local Jewish communities are condemning last week’s white supremacist attack on two New Zealand mosques that killed 50 people and wounded dozens.

A crowd, including members of Jewish Federation and JCRC staff, gathers for a “Service of Interreligious Solidarity” held by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. (Photo by Jason Holtzman)

The attacks took place in the city of Christchurch at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque during March 15 morning prayers. The “worst act of terrorism committed on our shores,” as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern characterized it, was allegedly carried out by a 28-year-old Australian national who’d penned an 87-page manifesto filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The response from Jewish organizations came swiftly.

“This attack on a Muslim community at prayer is an attack on the sanctity of life and tears at the fabric of society,” said the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in a statement. “We stand together with the Muslim community to denounce and oppose violence, hatred and bigotry in all its forms.”

The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia also released a statement, signed by board president, Rabbi Joshua Waxman. (more…)

SJU holds an Interreligious Service of Solidarity in memory of New Zealand mosque shooting victims

March 18, 2019

Photo courtesy of Matt Barrett, The Hawk

On Monday, March 18, 2019, approximately 125 members of the campus and neighboring communities gathered at the sculpture of “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” to remember the fifty Muslims who, while at prayer, were victims of a gunman at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on the previous Friday. The Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations was one of several campus organizations that organized the service.


Pope Pius XII documents won’t resolve Holocaust questions, experts say

March 11, 2019

Pope Pius XII is pictured at the Vatican in a file photo dated March 15, 1949. (CNS file photo)

Unsealing documents on Pope Pius XII in the Vatican’s Secret Archives will not necessarily resolve whether the wartime pontiff sufficiently advocated for Jews during World War II, according to two local experts.

“The focus on Pius XII is understandable, but also somewhat excessive,” said Adam Gregerman, associate professor of Jewish studies at Saint Joseph’s University and the co-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.

Both Gregerman and fellow IJCR director Professor Philip Cunningham applauded Pope Francis’ recent announcement that the material will be made available to scholars as of March 2, 2020. Archival staff at the Vatican have spent the past 13 years organizing the collection, whose 16 million pages include Vatican diplomatic documents and thousands of notes regarding Pope Pius XII’s activities.