As calls for divestment from Israel continue to ripple through mainline Protestant denominations, several of the world’s most prominent Catholic leaders are making high-profile overtures to the Jewish community.
During a trip to Poland that started this week, the German-born Pope Benedict XVI is set to visit the Auschwitz death camp on May 28.
Next week, on May 30, Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, will speak at The Jewish Center, a prominent Modern Orthodox synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. His speech is being billed as an address on the state of Catholic-Jewish relations 40 years after “Nostra Aetate,” the groundbreaking document adopted by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The document renounced the charge that Jews of all generations are responsible for the death of Jesus and are cursed by God.
The two talks come just weeks after Cardinal Sean O’Malley marked the anniversary of “Nostra Aetate” with his first address to the Boston Jewish community, held at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center.
Jews and Catholics have steadily grown closer over the past four decades, despite such prominent disagreements as the failure of the Vatican to open its World War II-era archives. But with the death last year of Pope John Paul II, who had taken several dramatic steps to strengthen ties with the Jewish community, some Jewish observers worried that the relationship could cease to be a priority for the church.
Instead, Benedict appears to be carrying on in the path of his predecessor: Soon after his election last spring, he met with Jewish leaders. Last August he visited a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, and spoke out against antisemitism. On this week’s four-day trip to Poland — his first formal papal pilgrimage — he is expected to bless 41 Poles who helped Jews during the Holocaust when he visits the monument that commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. On Sunday, the Pope is expected to visit the site of the Auschwitz death camp to say a Mass in front of Jewish and Catholic survivors and dignitaries. According to a Vatican newspaper, the mass is intended to evoke not only peace and reconciliation but also the obligation to remember the Nazi atrocities.
During his address May 10, Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley stressed the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith.
“Jesus Christ was a Jew, a descendant of King David’s,” he said. “We venerate the Jewish Scriptures. Our theology and liturgy, indeed our history, our weekly Sabbath observance of the Lord’s Day, are all inexorably linked to the Jewish religion.”