Catholic-Jewish relations have come a long way, but still need work - Catholic Courier

Catholic-Jewish relations have come a long way, but still need work

PITTSFORD — Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, director of interfaith policy for the national Anti-Defamation League, recalled the day in 1998 that he and a friend took a walk in the rabbi’s hometown of Brooklyn and paused to talk while sitting on the steps of a Catholic church.

As people began to file into the church for a Saturday-evening Mass, a woman in her mid- to late 50s paused to question the rabbi, who was wearing a skullcap, or kippah, because it was the Sabbath.

She demanded to know why they were sitting on these particular steps, instead of at a neighboring synagogue, the rabbi recalled.

“The nasty kind of tone she had, to me, spoke of something more,” Rabbi Greenberg recalled Aug. 25 during a presentation at the ADL’s Bearing Witness Institute, which was held at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. “She added, as we were getting up to leave, ‘Look what you did to our Lord.’ I was stunned.”

Rabbi Greenberg said up until this incident, he had thought that relations between Catholics and Jews had progressed, especially in light of Nostra Atate, the groundbreaking Vatican II declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions. Nostra Aetate said that the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in non-Christian religions, called for an end to anti-Semitism and said any discrimination based on race, color, religion or condition of life is foreign to the mind of Christ.

“This is a living problem,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “We haven’t gotten over it. It’s not in the past.”

As Rabbi Greenberg pointed out through his anecdote, not everyone has gotten the message about the Catholic Church’s own guidelines.

“We need to be vigilant and continue educating seminarians, priests and Catholic school teachers so they can teach what the church has adopted as its wonderful new relationship with the Jewish people,” Rabbi Greenberg said.

Nostra Aetate tries to correct common errors that many Catholics have about Jews and Judaism, Father Dennis McManus, visiting professor of theology at Georgetown University and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Catholic-Jewish Affairs, said during his Aug. 25 talk at the institute.

“It tries to say to Catholics that Jews are God’s beloved, chosen people, that their validity, and life and identity comes from God, and we must respect that, and that anything short of that is anti-Semitism, and that is deeply sinful,” Father McManus said.

These lessons from Nostra Aetate can be very hard for some Catholics to come to terms with, the priest noted.

“It has been a centuries-long struggle, but the message (of Nostra Atate) is as vital as it was 44 years ago,” he said.

To counteract anti-Semitism, Catholics need to be educated on the Judaism of Jesus, Father McManus said.

“Once they understand that, they embrace the importance of Judaism as part of their own redemption,” he said. “Catholicism teaches that God has yet to work out his full plan of salvation for his world, and the Jews are an important part of that plan.”

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