Ties between Catholics and Jews have grown much stronger since Vatican II fifty years ago, but the welcome improvement should not be taken for granted, according to a former Israeli ambassador to the Holy See.
H.E. Mordechay Lewy (above), who served as Israel’s ranking diplomat to the Vatican from 2008 through the summer of 2012, spoke at the Columbus School of Law on Oct. 17, offering remarks titled “Vatican-Jewish Relations: An Ambassador’s Perspective.”
Sponsored by the law school’s Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion Middle East Religious Dialogue Program and the New Jersey-based Center for Interreligious Understanding, the ambassador’s lecture was both a recollection of his personal experience in the job as well as a history of the uneven but improving relations between the two Abrahamic faiths over the past half-century.
Lewy’s remarks were received warmly by two high-ranking Catholic clerics in the audience: Most Rev. Denis J. Madden, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Baltimore; and His Excellency Most Reverend Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio to United States of America, who respectively delivered the invocation and opening remarks.
Born in Israel on May 15, 1948, the first official day of statehood for the brand new nation, Lewy spent much of his talk describing the momentous change wrought by Nostra Aetate, adopted by Pope Paul VI in 1965 which condemned anti-Semitism and called for Christians to abandon the millennia-old practice of blaming Jews for the death of Jesus.
After nearly two thousand years, it was an unprecedented turning point, said Lewy, “but we cannot be sure the process won’t be derailed in the future.”
Despite great progress, some anxieties and schisms remain, the diplomat noted. Among the irritants, Jewish alarm over continuing attempts in some Christian quarters to convert them, an idea that Lewy said most Jews regard as “cultural genocide.”
He also urged that the term “reconciliation” be dropped as descriptive of the better relations between Catholics and Jews because the word has significant theological overtones for Christians. Lewy said rapprochement is a more accurate term.
"We Jews cannot afford not take the hand stretched out to us with the openness promulgated with Nostra Aetate," said the ambassador in conclusion. "After almost 2000 years of shared history, which cannot be defined otherwise than ill-fated, Jews and Christians deserve a better common future."
Closing reflections were offered by Rabbi Jack Bemporad (left), the director of The Center for Interreligious Understanding. Bemporad’s assessment of Catholic-Jewish relations was generally upbeat.
“Next to Jewish schools, the best place to learn about Judaism is in Catholic parochial schools,” the rabbi noted.
But while Catholics have worked to understand the place of Judaism within the context of their own faith, at least since Nostra Aetate, Bemporad said a there has yet to be an equal effort on the part of Jews.
Catholic University law school Professor Marshall Breger was the chief organizer of the afternoon discussion.