Catholic officials, rabbis meet to seek common ground

Focus is theological, religious, not political

June 21, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - In an effort to move beyond 2,000 years of anti-Semitism and mutual recriminations, a group of high-level Catholic officials and Jewish rabbis concluded yesterday their first meeting seeking theological common ground between the two faiths.

The two-day inter-religious dialogue held on the campus of the Catholic University of America brought together Vatican and other Roman Catholic officials, including Baltimore's Cardinal William H. Keeler, with representatives of three major streams of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.

This dialogue will differ from other such meetings that have occurred between Catholics and Jews in that it will focus on religious and theological themes, rather than political issues that could divide the two groups.

One reason the two parties say they can get into such a dialogue is the sense of trust that came out of Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage in March to Israel.

The Rev. Remi Hoeckman, the Vatican's representative at the meeting, said many of his Jewish friends were angered when the pope made his prayer of repentance at St. Peter's Basilica for the sins of Christians against Jews before his trip to Israel, saying it wasn't enough.

They demanded a more explicit apology.

Their minds were changed, he said, by seeing the elderly pope praying at the Western Wall, which many Jews consider their most sacred place of prayer.

"He touched the Wall. And he touched it for a long time," Hoeckman said. "And you saw this trembling hand. That was a language every Jew understood."

Jewish participants hailed the progress the Catholic Church has made in the past 35 years, since the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965.

"We believe the Catholic Church has done a tremendous amount of work and has taken tremendous strides forward in changing Christian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism," said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding, one of the sponsors of the dialogue.

But amid the talk of harmony, yesterday's meeting also highlighted a split.

Noticeably absent were representatives from the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, an umbrella representing such groups as the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, which have been more pointed in their criticism of the Vatican. The IJCIC has been involved in dialogue with the Vatican for the past 30 years.

Seymour Reich, director of IJCIC, said the group of rabbis that participated in the meeting was "seemingly chosen by the Vatican."

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