What's Next for Jewish-Catholic Dialogue?

Interview With President of Christian-Unity Council

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By Lisztovszki Tünde



BUDAPEST, Hungary, NOV. 14, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The education of future generations is key for keeping 40 years of progress in Jewish-Christian dialogue on the right track, says a Vatican official.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which oversees the Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, spoke with ZENIT about this dialogue and opportunities for interreligious collaboration.

He had just wrapped up the 20th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee of the Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, which took place Sunday through Wednesday in Budapest.

The conference was on the role of religion in civil society today and the current state of Jewish-Catholic relations in Eastern Europe.

Q: Where can Jews and Christians together intervene in and for the society of today? What particular contribution can Christian laypeople offer in the framework of this collaboration?

Cardinal Kasper: Jews, Catholics, Christians have more or less the same values and it is very important to be able to give common testimony about values such as life, justice, mercy, freedom and human rights, without forgetting that we also have the Ten Commandments in common. It is quite meaningful, in this postmodern society, to give a common testimony because, if we do this, our voice will be stronger.

In Latin America, we have already begun to collaborate in favor of malnourished children; we have founded together an institution that works through Caritas. Already in South America we have begun to work on a project against HIV infection, designed for those children who are infected from their birth.

There are a lot of possibilities for collaborating. For example, Jews have private schools, as we Catholics do. We have similar problems: financing, the relation with the state, etc. We can fight together and we want to do this. We have to face the problem of human rights and above all, that of discrimination and anti-Semitism. In the world, nevertheless, there is also anti-Catholicism and anti-Christian discrimination. Right now, for example, we suffer for the persecution of Christians in India.

Thus we see that a collaboration arises based on similar values, interests and challenges. In the last 40 years, a certain solidarity has grown, sometimes even friendship between Jews and Christians, not only in the United States, but also in Europe and in other places.

During this meeting, we heard a conference about what has been done in Mexico City and in other countries of Latin America. Today there is a network of collaboration and this gives us great joy. It is almost a miracle, because in the past, the relationship between Christians and Jews was very complex and difficult. All of this, nevertheless, changed after Vatican II.

What can the laypeople do? Give their contributions in the fight for human rights, for charity, for justice, which is their realm of responsibility, and not just that of the bishops and priests. Many things can be done, but Christians and Jews find themselves above all in the reality of daily life, and they can take advantage of this to interchange their own ideas and share those issues that often unite them. It is possible to strengthen mutual friendship and build confidence on both sides.

Q: What is the contribution of the conference in Budapest, with sights set on a new society and a new future built together?

Cardinal Kasper: The first steps have already been taken. We have now gotten together in Eastern Europe, Middle Eastern, and I have the impression that here too there is much to do. In Hungary, the Shoah was ferocious; many Jews lost their lives in Eastern Europe, above all in Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and Russia. There is a lot to be done. We have gathered here to bring the idea of Jewish-Christian dialogue also to this part of the world.

The theme of this conference was religion in the civil society of today. This is very important, because today one is in favor of the separation of Church and state, but often we find ourselves facing -- not a state that suppresses religion -- but a society of mass media. During the conference, we have seen how we can speak, act and face the new challenges, for example, that of a new intolerance. We see what contribution, what input religion -- Christianity and Judaism -- can give to the state, to society. These are values because no state, no society can live without values, and on the other hand, it is important to understand how we can maintain religious liberty, not just in the private sphere but also in the public one. Today these new challenges exist, these new tasks that unite the two religions.

Q: After this path of 40 years of dialogue that has given so many fruits, what are the important steps to be taken so that dialogue continues and develops in the future?

Cardinal Kasper: Education is very important. We have a dialogue that has endured since almost 40 years ago, but now a new generation is growing up. We have to transmit to them this idea and this commitment. With each change of generation, we have to begin again with education.

Therefore, I think the point that is especially important is education: to develop and elaborate common projects in schools, in favor of tolerance, mutual respect and welcome, and to not lose the memory of the Shoah, or that of the "Night of Broken Glass" that we commemorated here, because these events are sad but they should also open us to the future. Therefore, a common educational project directed to the new generation would be very important.