VATICAN CITY: An Israeli rabbi was set on Monday to become the first Jewish holy man to address a Roman Catholic synod after declaring that dialogue between the two faiths was based on “mutual respect.”
“The suspicion that someone wants to convert us is based on the experience of the past, but I think and hope today it has no reason to exist,” said Shear-Yashuv Cohen, Grand Rabbi of Haifa in Israel.
“Today there is mutual respect and no one wants to change the other,” he told the Italian daily La Repubblica in an interview published on Monday, the second day of the three-day gathering.
Cohen was to speak Monday evening on the Jewish interpretation of the Bible, whose first five books comprise the Torah, Judaism’s most holy sacred writings.
In the interview, Cohen, who is co-president of a commission for dialogue between the Vatican and Israel, praised the “important work” achieved by the body since it was formed seven years ago.
“If you recall how much hate and how much persecution took place through history, how many problems there were between various religions, and notably between Catholicism and Judaism,” the importance of such initiatives should be highlighted to “reduce hatred and promote peace and brotherhood,” Cohen said.
“There are limits to dialogue (because) you always have to remember that dialogue does not mean changing the other,” Cohen told La Repubblica. “To push dialogue beyond this limit means trying to influence the other, but we are no longer in the Middle Ages.”
Benedict has continued the conciliatory steps taken by his predecessor, Polish-born John Paul II, to improve inter-faith relations, but has sometimes stumbled.
Most recently he allowed the reintroduction of a controversial Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jews.
However in April the German-born pontiff won some Jewish hearts and minds when he became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to visit a synagogue in the United States.
Meanwhile the 253 bishops got down to work on Monday to discuss ways to better spread the Christian message around the world.
The synod should “propose concrete ways to fill the gaps and remedy the ignorance of Scriptures added to the current difficulties of evangelisation,” Quebec Archbishop Marc Ouellet told a news conference.
“Various socio-cultural phenomena such as secularisation, religious pluralism, globalisation and the explosion of communication media” combine with “internal difficulties” of the Roman Catholic Church to impede evangelisation, he said.
Among the problems are the “transmission of faith within the family, a lack of catechism training (and) tensions between the Church magisterium and university theology,” Ouellet said.
The synod, the second such gathering to be presided over by Benedict since his election in 2005, will discuss Christian fundamentalism and the relationship between religion and science as well as Judaism and Islam.
During the proceedings on Monday, Ouellet said: “Today, bearing in mind the tragic history of the relations between Israel and the Church, we are invited not only to repair any injustice committed against the Jews, but also to a new respect towards the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament.”
Regarding relations with Islam, Ouellet wrote in proceedings released by the Vatican: “Faced with secularisation and liberalism, (Muslims) are allies in the defense of human life and in the assertion of the social importance of religion. Dialogue with them is more important than ever in today’s circumstances.”
The Times of India