Still work to do in Jewish relations

 — Feb. 11, 201411 févr. 2014
by Evan Boudreau, The Catholic Register

Continuing to strengthen relationships with the Jewish community is essential for Catholics, Sr. Lucy Thorson believes.

“For us as Catholics it is really not a luxury, it is a necessity for us to be familiar with Judaism,” said the Sister of Sion. “It is the roots of our Christian faith. So many of our Christian practices are rooted in the Jewish tradition.”

Despite this connection which is grounded in “the Jewishness of Jesus,” a significant degree of tension has existed between the two faiths in the past.

“Our history has been very painful with our relationship with the Jewish people.”

Thorson blamed misunderstandings during the interpretation process of the New Testament resulting in negative portrayals of the Jews as one of the leading causes of this tension.

But things have been improving since Vatican II, she noted. During an evening lecture at Scarboro Missions on Feb. 5, Thorson reinforced this by highlighting some of the major milestones in Catholic-Jewish relations starting with the council.

The event, which was part of World Interfaith Harmony Week, drew about 35 people despite a winter storm blanketing much of the city earlier that day.

“One of the big milestones along the way was definitely the Second Vatican Council but also the ongoing development of the Church’s teachings with regard to our relationship with Judaism,” she said. “We can already see within the pontificate of Pope Francis that he has already in this short time brought a whole depth to the relationship with the Jewish community.”

Before becoming Pope Francis, the Argentinian Jesuit worked closely with the Jewish community, specifically Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who he held many interfaith dialogues with and regarded as a friend. Shortly after the white smoke rose over St. Peter’s Square last March Francis made a gesture to continue building this interfaith relationship into his new home in Rome.

“One of the first acts of Pope Francis was to send a message to Rome’s Jewish community informing them of his election and inviting them to be present at the installation Mass,” said Thorson. “(And) during his first official visit with Jewish leaders Pope Francis said because of our common roots a true Christian cannot be anti-Semitic.”

Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, especially the latter’s text on interfaith relations Nostra Aetate, were also praised by Thorson for their efforts in mending the wounds of the past.

Although apologies, prayers and invitations to come together in community have been expressed towards the Jewish people by these popes, Howard Bernstein isn’t fully satisfied. Bernstein, a Jewish teacher with Toronto’s public school board, criticized some of the milestones which were highlighted but praised the Catholic Church in general.

“In the year 2000 visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel and his beautiful prayer for forgiveness he used the words ‘for those who have caused these children to suffer,’ ” he noted. “One might have hoped for slightly stronger language, perhaps the word we or the Church but it was progress at the time and perhaps we are expecting a little too much. These changes have come about because of the Church’s initiatives, not from the Jewish side.

“These milestones represent an achievement that can only be praised by everyone (but) nevertheless there had been and still are some bumps in the road.”

Thorson didn’t entirely disagree with Bernstein, but said it is important to remember the context in which those actions were done.

“We have to take into account that a relationship grows and an understanding of the other grows,” she said. “The teachings or the expressions that were at the Second Vatican Council or at different moments along the way, they can increase in terms of their strength but I think that they reflected the context at the time. They were wonderful.”

And although she only made reference to the milestones made by religious leaders, Thorson does not think the responsibility to further develop the Catholic-Jewish relationship rests solely in their high-profile hands.

“There has been a lot of progress on the part of many so-called ordinary Christians to better understand, for example, the celebration of festivals of our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

The one thing truly slowing this process down “is a lack of education,” she continued.

“We are not aware of the roots of our Christian practices within the Jewish faith tradition and that is really one of the road blocks. If we can get (that awareness) down to the level of the pews and to so-called ordinary Christians, that would be really what we need to do.”

Posted: Feb. 11, 2014 • Permanent link:
Categories: Catholic RegisterIn this article: Catholic, Jewish-Christian relations
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Catégorie : Catholic RegisterDans cet article : Catholic, Jewish-Christian relations

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