Keeler joins religious leaders to light Vatican City's first permanent menorah

Seminary site to serve as reminder of Holocaust

April 14, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Cardinal William H. Keeler joined Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders yesterday to light the first permanent menorah in Vatican City during the commemoration of Yom Hashoah, the annual Holocaust Memorial Day.

The six-branch menorah was placed on the grounds of the Pontifical North American College, a seminary for American students studying for the priesthood in Rome. Keeler was chairman of the board of the college until recently and was instrumental in having the Menorah placed there.

"It is a reminder that people not forget the Shoah, the Holocaust," Keeler said in a telephone interview from Rome. "It's a symbol of all that was lost, the terrible, horrible efforts at genocide with respect to the Jews during the Holocaust."

Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the New Jersey-based Center for Inter-religious Understanding, spoke yesterday in Vatican City on the challenges facing Jews and Catholics as they work together. He called the installation of the Menorah "a major step" in Catholic-Jewish relations.

"It will be in a place where future bishops and cardinals will be exposed to it," Bemporad said. "I think it's a sign of the Catholic Church's determination, not only to teach the Shoah, but that we learned its lesson, that we can't treat human beings like that."

The Menorah, which was crafted by Israeli artist Aharon Bezalel, is about 4 feet tall and made of bronze, with six men and women holding torches for the candles. A holy man stands in front holding a prayer book. A cracked Star of David sits at the base and is inscribed with 1933-1945, the years of the Holocaust.

Yesterday's menorah lighting marked the launch of a program involving Jewish and Catholic seminary students. Their partnership will include lectures on Judaism at the North American College, starting in November, when Bemporad will return to North American College for two weeks to lecture.

The college's Judaic library will be updated and an exchange will be initiated in which Jewish seminarians will stay in Vatican City and Catholic seminarians will stay in U.S. Jewish communities for two weeks.

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