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Rooted in the imagery of Paul’s New Testament letter to the Romans (chapters 9 to 11), the olive branch has become a potent symbol in the modern Jewish-Christian relationship. Since ancient
times, the olive has been an important staple food, common to many cultures in the areas where Judaism and Christianity both arose and flourished. The Second Vatican Council’s declaration Nostra Aetate drew upon this biblical imagery, to remind Christians of their fundamental rootedness in Judaism, and to express the organic relationship of Judaism and Christianity, which continues to evolve in our time, in positive and lifegiving ways.
By Sr. Lucy Thorson, nds
In early October, Pope Francis sent out a message to his nearly 30 million Twitter followers: “Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury, but something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs”. It was an important reminder to people everywhere that dialogue is not something reserved for a select few academic theologians and high-level religious leaders, but a necessary component of what it means to be authentically religious, especially in a world where religious differences sometimes seem to be a primary source of tension and conflict. The message of religious divisions and violence gets perpetuated on a daily basis by much of the media. But, as Pope Francis knows well, there is another side to religious interactions—a path of respectful dialogue, learning, cooperation and friendship—and that is the model that he and many of the world’s religious leaders want us to hear, and to be inspired by.
Christians have been interacting with other religions since the beginning. But formal interreligious dialogue is a relatively modern idea, and in many ways what laid the foundations for it was the bitter experience of the Holocaust in Europe—the destruction of 6 million Jews and 5 million others—and a Christian recognition of how longstanding Christian concepts had been exploited to promote hatred against Jews. The “examination of conscience” that followed has led to a radical re-orientation of Christian thinking about Judaism, and a new respect for Judaism, both the ancient Judaism of the Bible, and Judaism as it continues to be practiced today. Pope Francis is a leader in that process, but he is also building upon a substantial foundation of official Church teaching that includes Pope St. John XXIII, Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. Today, interreligious dialogue (and especially Jewish-Christian dialogue) is a key component of Catholic teaching: “something which our world … increasingly needs”.
As part of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Vatican II’s declaration on non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate, 1965), which revolutionized the relations of the Catholic Church with other religions and especially Judaism, the Interfaith Department of Scarboro Missions decided to develop a series of short biographies of a number of individuals who have made major contributions to modern Jewish-Christian dialogue. Now, with the assistance of Salt + Light Television, four of those biographies are being made into short documentary videos, to help educate both Christians and Jews about how far this dialogue has come, and the wonderful fruit it has borne. The subjects of the documentaries include:
- Dr. Victor Goldbloom, a Montreal-born pediatrician who became the first Jew to serve in Quebec’s cabinet. A prominent political, religious and social figure, Dr. Goldbloom was knighted in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI for his leadership in the field of Jewish-Christian relations, which continued until his death in February 2016;
- Sister Charlotte Klein, NDS, a German-born Sister of Sion who dedicated her adult life to educating Christians about Judaism, to eliminating vestiges of anti-Jewish thinking in liturgical and catechetical materials, and who worked to build bridges of respect and understanding with the Jewish community, in German and in the United Kingdom;
- Dr. Edward Kessler, the founder and director of Cambridge University’s Woolf Institute, which promotes inquiry into the relations among the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Dr. Kessler has played a pioneering role in developing interfaith educational materials for schools, community organizations and university students, and is very active in promoting interreligious dialogue on an international level;
- Dr. Mary Boys, SNJM, a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and a theology professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Dr. Boys’s book, Has God Only One Blessing?, explores some of the roots of Christian reflection on Judaism, and highlights a number of important steps that have been undertaken to improve relations between Jews and Christians.
By bringing together these fascinating stories and the best of modern communications technology, we hope to honour the contributions of these individuals, to emphasize the contemporary transformation in Jewish-Christian relations, and inspire more people to delve into this amazing field of interreligious dialogue—a sign of promise and hope for our broken world, and a reminder of God’s love for all God’s children.