EVENTS Jews and Catholics, a fruitful dialogue

dialogueBy Adam Smulevich*

“Hine ma tov uma na’im, Shevet achim gam yachad”. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”:

These well-known verses from Psalm 133 – in which brotherhood is compared to the holy anointing oil and to the divine dew falling on the mountains of Israel and on Mount Zion – were used by Rabbi Daniel Polish to start off his speech. In the past few days, as head of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Dialogue, he has debated in Rome with representatives of the Vatican, Jewish leaders and communication experts on the occasion of the 24th International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee meeting in Rome.

This meeting lasted several days and kicked off in the historical Palazzo della Cancelleria in the presence of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, with speeches by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Noemi di Segni, president of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities, the auxiliary bishop Monsignor Paolo Selvadagi, Rav (“Reporter on Self-Assessment”) Benedetto Carucci Viterbi on behalf of Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi, and Ruth Dureghello, head of the Jewish Community in Rome.

This meeting was an opportunity for the participants to retrace all those centuries of coexistence dominated by times of trouble and, occasionally, by actual attempts at the hands of the Church to destroy the Jewish Community. However, they also pointed out the great progress which has been made since the Second Vatican Council, regarded by anyone as a major turning point in the relations between Jews and Christians. It is still an uphill battle, but is also marked by joint experiences and projects, ranging from education to the social role of religions, as underlined during the opening ceremony.

“With all our might, we must denounce and tackle antisemitism and terrorism. However, we must not limit ourselves to expressing indignation. Especially in the field of education, we must focus on younger generations, claimed Cardinal Bassetti, in order for them to be able to uproot and fight against all prejudices at the origin of inhuman hatred threatening friendships and bonds of brotherhood.”

Some of the topics covered in these days are the fight against antisemitism, the defence of religious freedom, the refugee crisis and persecution of certain Christian communities around the world. All these challenges have to be faced with the greatest unity but also with the utmost awareness. This was mentioned in the tunes performed by the musicians of the Davka project at Palazzo della Cancelleria, inviting those presents to join on an artistic journey that did not fail to touch some of the critical moments of Jewish-Catholic relations, starting with the dramatic forced exile of the Spanish Jew evoked in the song “Adio Querida”.

To build a different future, these wounds must not be forgotten.

*Translated by Mattia Stefani with the help of Sara Facelli, both students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University and interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.

“Working together is imperative.”

From the fight against anti-Semitism to the defence of religious freedom, from the refugee emergency to the persecution of some Christian communities around the world.

The 24th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee was characterised by three days of intense work and it counted around sixty participants. They addressed different topical issues and their main goal was to suggest solutions and ideas shared by everybody, despite their differences. It’s the same challenge as the one described by “Ebrei e Cristiani – Benedetto XVI in dialogo con il Rabbino Arie Folger”, i.e. an important book published by San Paolo and edited by Elio Guerriero on that very same day in the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome. The same Rabbi Folger, Chief Rabbi of Vienna, the Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the Pontifical Household and secretary of the Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, Andrea Monda, editor in chief of the Italian newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano”, and Professor Achim Buckenmeier, director of the Chair for the Theology of the People of God, discussed the same matters today. Among the other participants there were Oren David, Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, and Giacomo Moscati, UCEI Counsellor.

Rabbi Folger expressed his admiration for the work of Ratzinger, a pope who “paid homage to Judaism, thus eliminating some of the prejudices”. As he went through some of the latest orthodox rabbinate’s initiatives for the dialogue with the Church, Rabbi Folger referred to “Between Jerusalem and Rome – Reflections on 50 Years of Nostra Aetate”, i.e. the document presented to Pope Bergoglio in 2017,as a milestone for this relation. Then, about Ratzinger, he added: “a man who repels anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Of course we do not agree on some topics, but we both long for togetherness and serving God, each following their own tradition.”

The meeting of the Catholic-Jewish Committee referred to the Nostra Aetate as well. The committee was created almost a half-century ago along with the Council’s Declaration. These activities’ main focus is the current humanitarian crisis. The representative of the American Jewish Committee, Lisa Palmieri-Billig, spoke during a panel dedicated to the relations between Jews and Catholics in Italy explaining that “working together is a moral imperative, in this field as well”. Among the specific proposals made during the proceedings, the focus was on the importance to strengthen relations between the Community of Sant’Egidio and HIAS, a Jewish American non-profit organisation that provides assistance and humanitarian aid.

On Wednesday, Pope Bergoglio received the participants in the meeting, hosted by the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews. “Dialogue – he claimed – is a way to get to know each other better and create together a climate of tolerance as well as respect among religions. Our strength lies in the mildness of this encounter, which is different from the extremism that emerges throughout the world today, bringing hatred only”. This same idea was introduced during the meeting’s opening ceremony that took place in the Palazzo della Cancelleria in the presence of the Italian head of government Giuseppe Conte.

There were also the introductory statements of Rabbi Daniel Polish, Chief of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Dialogue, and Kurt Koch, president of the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews.

*Translated by Simone Simonazzi and revised by Claudia Azzalini, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.