Catholic-Jewish c'tee celebrates 40th anniversary in Paris

Lisa Palmieri-Billig in The Jerusalem Post

The Jerusalem Post

Lisa Palmieri-Billig

March 4, 2011

Leaders advocate strengthening of alliance between faiths in light of rising ‘religious’ hatred and Middle East uncertainty,

PARIS – A top-level Vatican- Jewish conference in Paris this week marked the fortieth anniversary of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC), the official interreligious organism created by the Second Vatican Council.

Entrenched in historic memories of tragic as well as glad moments, the conference commemorated the Holocaust but also celebrated achievements in terms of friendship, education and hopes for the future by hosting a Young Leadership group.

The event also provided a boat trip on the Seine River complete with a kosher dinner and spiritual leaders of both faiths joyfully dancing to klezmer music.

Current events in the Mediterranean and Islamic world, however, erupted into discussions at the final meeting with the tragic news – announced by Cardinal Jean- Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue – of the murder of Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti.

“He was a Christian, a man who remained committed to his belief in dialogue despite his knowledge that his life was in danger” said a visibly upset Cardinal Tauran. The Vatican later issued a statement condemning “this unspeakable act of violence,” calling for all to “realize the dramatic urgency for the defense of religious liberty, and of Christians subject to violence and persecution.”

Participants agreed that the upsurge of “religious” hatred plus reigning uncertainty regarding the future of the Middle East called for further strengthening of the alliance between Christians, Jews and moderate Muslims, especially via examples of interreligious cooperation on social and educational issues.

The ILC’s joint final declaration expressed “profound sadness at repeated instances of violence or terrorism ‘in the name of God’ including increased attacks against Christians, and the calls for the destruction of the State of Israel,” and it deplored “every act of violence perpetrated in the name of religion.”

News of the Pakistani minister’s murder came immediately following a working session on “religious communities in the Middle East” with lively participation by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem H.B. Fouad Twal, the Francescan Custos Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and representatives of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and Foreign Ministry, among others.

Pleas for help in strengthening Palestinian Christian institutions “for the benefit of all” were heard, while some delegates lamented the “disproportionate” dearth of media attention to the plight of Christian minorities in the Middle East.

The ILC – composed of Vatican officials and Catholic clergy and scholars on one side, and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) representing the world’s major Jewish organizations on the other – was created in 1971 to apply and develop the principles of “Nostra Aetate.” This 1965 Vatican II document aimed at permanently changing the course of a 2,000-year history of Catholic anti-Semitism.

Contemporary dialogue between Catholics and Jews is based on this document, which denounced all forms of anti-Semitism and particularly the “deicide” myth that stereotyped the Jewish people as Christ-killers.

The publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s second book, Jesus of Nazareth, was also announced during the conference.

This book confirms the Pope’s theological and historical considerations regarding the falsehood of past assertions of Jewish collective responsibility for the death of Jesus.

The ILC conference was cochaired by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews and Rabbi Richard Marker, chairman of IJCIC.

IJCIC’s 30 Jewish delegates represented 11 Jewish secular and rabbinical organizations plus observers from the Israeli government, while the 30 Catholics included highest Curia officials such as Cardinals Koch, Tauran and Turkson – who respectively head the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, its Council for Interreligious Dialogue and its Council for Justice and Peace – as well as other Vatican officials, scholars and leading members of the French Catholic hierarchy.

On opening night, the president of the French Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal Andre Vingt Trois recalled the contributions of Jules Isaac, Jacques Maritain, Cardinal Lustiger and others.

The archbishop of Lyons, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, and Cardinal Kurt Koch delivered moving speeches at the sites of the Drancy deportation camp and at a tree-planting ceremony at the Raincy Jewish Center in memory of Ilan Halimi, a French Jewish “victim of contemporary anti- Semitism” who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a Paris gang.

The program was poignantly moderated by Rev. Patrick Debois, renowned for his pioneering work in recent discoveries of mass murder sites in Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and other areas of Europe, digging out and providing graves for over a million Jews murdered by Nazis.

Keynote speeches on the past, present and future of Catholic-Jewish relations worldwide were delivered by the American Jewish Committee’s present and past directors for International Interreligious Relations, Rabbis David Rosen and Jim Rudin; Rabbi David Sandmel; Interreligious Coordination Council in Israel President Deborah Weissman; the head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) Richard Prasquier; Rev. Lawrence Frizzell; Monsignor William Murphy; the Francescan Custos Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa; Monsignor Pier Francesco Fumagalli; and Dr. Christian Rutishauser.

Date: 3/4/2011
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