By Sean Savage/JNS.org –
With the backdrop of positive steps on Jewish-Catholic relations under Pope Francis I, more than 50 leaders from both faiths gathered in Madrid, Spain, on Oct. 13 for the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ICJLC) summit to further religious cooperation.
The ICJLC, the official Catholic-Jewish dialogue group, was formed in 1967 shortly after the Second Vatican Council’s groundbreaking declarationNostra Aetate,which disavowed centuries of Catholic Church anti-Semitism and paved the way for improved Catholic-Jewish relations.
Since 1967, the committee has met nearly two dozen times and has issued several important joint declarations concerning matters of faith, ethics, and social issues.
JNS.org spoke to Betty Ehrenberg, chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and representative of the World Jewish Congress on the committee, about her recent appointment as the head of the IJCIC, her experience at the recent summit in Madrid, and the future of Jewish-Catholic relations.
As the new head of IJCIC and the first woman to hold position, what are some of your responsibilities, and what goals do you hope to achieve?
“My most important goal is to try and help guide the group to deepen the dialogue with other religious faiths. In addition to the recent meeting with the Catholic Church in Madrid, we recently met with leaders of the Orthodox Christianity in Greece and plan to attend a meeting with the World Council of Churches in South Korea later this year. I feel that is my responsibility to try to increase as much as possible contacts with different faiths.
“I also feel that it is very important to get younger Jews involved in this type of dialogue. I hope that we can teach young Jewish leaders to develop these types of friendships and skills of communication.”
What were some of the major topics discussed at the recent summit in Madrid?
“Many of the major topics that were discussed were issues that both faiths have in common. [Such as] combating racism, extremism, and violent attacks on religious institutions.
“The issue of religious freedom was also an extremely important topic as well. We discussed recent efforts [by some European countries] to curtail kosher slaughter or legislation outlawing male circumcision as well as prohibitions by some countries against wearing religious symbols such as the kippah, Magen David or even crosses.
“Both groups [Jewish and Catholic] are also deeply concerned with the continuity of their faiths and youth involvement. We shared some of our ideas on how to involve younger people.”
Were there discussions on the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, or persecution of Christians in the region?
“We did not have a direct discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But we did discuss attacks on faiths in the Holy Land, persecution of Christians in the region, and radicalization. However, this was not only limited to the Middle East, we had an across-the-board discussion of extremism on the far left and right.”
What other agreements or initiatives came out of the summit?