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The state of Catholic-Jewish relations improving

Catholic-Jewish relations have improved significantly over the past 50 years, but more strides are possible, said Rabbi David Rosen at a talk, “Catholic-Jewish Relations: Past, Present and Future” held June 1 at Café Reconcile.

Rabbi Rosen said today’s Christians and Jews are a privileged generation “to have witnessed, in terms of Jewish history, the two greatest miracles of modern times”:  the establishment of the state of Israel and the transformative relationships between Christians and Jews.

Rabbi Rosen is author of “Jewish-Catholic Relations Since ‘Nostra aetate’: An Unfinished Agenda” and International director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and director of its Heilbrunn Institute for Interreligious Understanding. He detailed national and international events that have produced a closer bond between Catholics and Jews, highlighting major initiatives by popes in the Catholic faith.

He first referenced a 1904 meeting at the Vatican between Theodor Herzl – who worked to establish an independent Jewish state in Palestine – and Pope Pius X. Herzl wrote in his diary Pope Pius X’s response to Herzl’s request for support of Israel: “I cannot recognize you for you have not recognized our Lord.” This, Rabbi Rosen said, expressed Christian teaching at the time – that Jews could not return to their homeland without first acknowledging Christ.

“The idea that Jews could return to their homeland before they recognized Jesus was anathema (to the pope),” Rabbi Rosen said.

He credited Pope John XXIII, a former papal delegate to Turkey and apostolic nuncio to France, with helping change the Catholic Church’s attitude toward Jews and who promoted the establishment of Israel by the United Nations.

“From a Jewish perspective, he was the greatest of popes,” Rabbi Rosen said, implying that Pope John XXIII thought more could have been done to save the Jews from the Nazis during World War II if the Catholic Church had embraced its brotherhood with the Jewish people.
In 1965, the Second Vatican Council adopted “Nostra aetate,” opening dialogues with the Jewish faith and other Christian and world faiths.

“The document totally transformed the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish people,” Rabbi Rosen said. The document revolutionized the idea that Judaism “had an integrity all by itself, apart from the divine economy (of the Holy Trinity) of the Catholic Church.”

Catholic-Jewish relations continued in earnest again in 1993 as the sovereign state of Israel was getting international respect, he said.

Since then, Rabbi Rosen said three popes have visited Israel, showing respect to the Jewish people by meeting with rabbinic leadership and confirming the Catholic-Jewish bond. Pope Francis spoke of complementarity between Judaism and the Catholic Church as “an idea that would have been mind-boggling for any Catholic to have thought of before the Second Vatican II, let alone any Jew to conceive of.”

“It’s mindboggling for Israelis,” Rabbi Rosen said, considering “the image of Christianity for most Israelis is taken from the tragic past. But to see the head of the Catholic Church showing respect to Israel’s highest officials, to see genuine love and affection for Jewish people – it’s a dramatic testimony to stunning revelations between relations of Jews and Christians.”

Jews contribute to change
Jewish leaders strengthened the relationship by publishing two statements, one in 1992 and another in 2002 by the National Jewish Scholars Project “Dabru Emet” in the New York Times, commending the Catholic Church for changing its attitude toward Jews and promoting the commonality and understanding between the two faiths. In the United States, Jews also have invited Catholic religious to Jewish rabbinic schools, and Jewish rabbis have visited Catholic schools.

“Most people have no idea of the changes that have taken place between church teaching and attitude toward the Jewish people,” he said. “This is part of the new reality. There is nothing in history that compares to this transformation (to go from a people seen as rejected by God to being respected by a present-day pope).”

Archdiocesan strides

Father Buddy Noel, pastor of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church in Westwego and the archdiocesan ecumenical officer, discussed recent local collaborations to foster better relationships the Jewish faith and other Christian faiths. 

“We have been doing Catholic-Jewish relations for a long time,” Father Noel said.

The first event, coordinated in November 2015 with the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, was a public forum featuring Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Rabbi Michael Cook of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati commemorating the 40th anniversary of “Nostra aetate.” 

Other events that have strengthened relations between the two faiths included two interfaith teaching Seder meals with Catholics and Jews on the Northshore, where Catholics explored the Torah, Jewish calendars and prepared some of the Seder meal.

“Catholics saw how beautiful the Jewish tradition is … and they see in the Seder the roots in their own Christian traditions,” Father Noel said.

The talk at Café Reconcile was the second effort between the archdiocese and the Jewish Federation in the #breaking breadnola partnership.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans has also fostered respect and understanding for other religions by working with Dr. William Mackintosh, founder-director of the Interfaith Communications International, on annual inter-religious services. The next one is Oct. 11 to commemorate the Year of Mercy.

“The Second Vatican Council says it is essential to reach out to other world religions and our brothers and sisters of other Christian faiths,” Father Noel said. “God created all of us and God loves us. What else can we do but love each other and grow closer together and rediscover who we are as a people.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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