JEWISH-CATHOLIC CONFERENCE IN LONDON
Rabbi Dr Sidney Brichto
A welcome discussion on theological differences and similarities
On 23 May a historic ground-breaking three-day conference on the Theology of Partnership, attended by Catholic and Jewish scholars, opened at a public meeting at the West London Synagogue. Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the newly appointed Archbishop of Westminster, on his first visit to a synagogue since his installation, gave his endorsement to the conference. Cardinal Edward Cassidy, head of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, delivered the major address. He expressed the Pope's profound desire for reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People, which reached its spiritual climax with his visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
When Cardinal Cassidy was asked once at a seminar whether he would welcome discussion on theological differences and similarities, or whether he felt it would exacerbate divisions, he assured us that discussion was just what he did want. He said: "I want to speak to the Jews". As he is in constant dialogue with leaders of Jewish organizations in his role as head of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, I interpreted this to mean that he would welcome turning the emphasis away from issues such as the Vatican's relationship to Israel and Christian responsibility for anti-Semitism to a deeper religious understanding of the theological differences between our two great religions. This idea was seized upon with enthusiasm. The incredible result has been the Millennium Conference on the Theology of Partnership held at the Sternberg Centre, London, in May. The subjects addressed were the meaning of covenant, chosenness; and election, attitudes towards the emerging values of the modern world and the special insights which Christianity and Judaism contribute to tikkun olam, the improvement of the world. This conference was indeed an historical breakthrough in the search for a proper understanding of the differences between us. It more than fulfilled our highest expectations. The exploration of our differences in our approach to human redemption became a source of enrichment rather than of division. One felt that the Pope's vision of a deep reconciliation between Catholic and Jew was beginning to take place and it was our privilege to be part of this great leap forward in mutual understanding and, indeed, in love for each other. Cardinal Cassidy's words in the Vatican will always ring in my ears. "Unless I know how you differ from me, I cannot really understand you". But so will the final statement he made at the conclusion of the conference, which reflected perfectly the beliefs of the Jewish as well as Catholic delegates: "Election is a gift we have received from God so that we can be a gift to others to bring hope in their lives". He added: "I feel we have achieved a deeper understanding of each other and I welcome future dialogues to help us meet the challenges of a democratic and pluralistic world in the 21st century".
Weekly Edition in English
21 June 2000, page 8
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