Jewish and Christian clergy tour Auschwitz, visit Vatican

Jewish and Christian clergy tour Auschwitz, visit Vatican

The horrors of the Holocaust brought together bishops and rabbis from several states on a recent study tour.

Sponsored by the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding of the Fairfield, Conn.-based Sacred Heart University, the trip, from Sept. ‘ to 7, started in Poland — where the group was joined by the chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, and the archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz — and ended in Italy, where they were joined by the chief rabbi of Florence, Joseph Levi.

Leaving Auschwitz on the first stage of their recent study tour are, from left, Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, Wis.; Rabbi Eugene Korn of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding; Rabbi Tzvi Blanchard of Clai; Bishop Kevin Rhodes of Harrisburg, Pa.; Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg of New York City; and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla.

According to Rabbi Eugene Korn, director of the center, the trip’s purpose was twofold: to give five bishops and three rabbis the opportunity to go to the concentration camp of Auschwitz "to experience as much as we could the horror of the Holocaust, because the Holocaust presented a great physical challenge to the Jewish people and a spiritual challenge to Christianity."

The other aspect of the tour, which is biennial, was to travel to Rome to present Pope Benedict XVI with the center’s Nostra Aetate Wings of Peace Award for fostering understanding between Jews and Christians, said Korn. "The trip was an outgrowth of Nostra Aetate," Korn noted. Asked how the progress in the relationships between the Church and the Jews can be measured since the publication of Nostra Aetate, Korn said that "the cooperation and understanding between the Church and the highest levels of the Jewish people was unimaginable in my grandfather’s time. Sixty years ago this was unthinkable."(See related story.)

In Rome the delegation also met with Bishop Brian Farrell, vice president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Commenting on what he experienced at Auschwitz and Rome, Most Rev. Richard J. Sklba, of Milwaukee, one of the participants, said in a press release issued by SHU, "One was a place of death, the other a place of life."

The trip to the concentration camps, which was the first for Korn and four of the bishops, was a "shattering event," Korn said. "To stand in the crematorium and try to imagine what the place was and to try to understand the evil that went on there is a devastating experience," he said.

The bishops hailed from Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Two of the rabbis, Tsvi Blanchard of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (Clal), and Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, are both from New York City. Korn, a Bergenfield resident, is also the editor of Meorot-A Forum for Modern Orthodox Discourse, published by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York City.

Asked what he gained from the trip, the second the CCJU sponsored, he said: "A deeper commitment to educate our communities about each other and make sure that prejudices and hatred be overcome through effective education so that something like the Holocaust never happens again. That’s the real message."

Founded 15 years ago, the CCJU, according to the SHU’s site, draws together religious leaders, laity, scholars, theologians and educators "to cultivate the new seeds of mutual respect" that have produced the new relationships between Jews and the Catholic Church, "and develop programs and publications to overcome deep-seated antagonisms that recent progress has not yet healed."

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