Youth and Interreligious Dialogue

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations

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By Viktoria Somogyi

ROME, NOV. 9, 2008 ( A key to progress in Jewish-Catholic relations is to get the younger generations involved, says a Vatican aide.

Father Norbert Hofmann is the secretary of the Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, within the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

This month the Vatican organization will participate in a meeting in Budapest, Hungary, in conjunction with the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The Nov. 9-12 meeting will reflect on «Civil and Religious Society: Catholic and Jewish Perspectives.»

This is the second international congress of its type that has taken place in eastern Europe — the first was held in Prague in 1990 — having as its purpose the involvement of future generations in interreligious dialogue, and promoting cooperation between Catholics, Jews and Orthodox.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Hofmann comments on the objectives of the conference and the status of Catholic-Jewish relations.

Q: What have been the priorities in preparing for this conference, and why in Budapest?

Father Hofmann: This is the second time that we are organizing a high-level conference in Eastern Europe. In 1990 there was a meeting in Prague. There is a large Jewish community in Budapest, so both groups made the choice together.

There is another thing that we did in preparing the meeting: Before the meeting we are getting together for a weekend with six Jewish young people and six Catholic young people. We are going together to a synagogue and a church to participate in a Catholic Mass. We want, in this way, to get the future generations involved.

Another important reason for choosing Budapest for the conference is to see how dialogue goes with the Jews in this context in Eastern Europe.

Q: The theme of the conference is «Civil and Religious Society: Catholic and Jewish Perspectives.» Can you summarize the Catholic perspectives on this topic?

Father Hofmann: We are religious, so for us faith is at the center of the dialogue. One aspect of contemporary society is the secularization that impacts Jewish and Catholic religious life. How should we deal with the fact of secularization?

Then there is also the necessity of involving the Muslims. Next year we want to organize a meeting where Muslims will also be present. Everyone who practices their religion should join for an authentic religious dialogue and to face the challenges of this society.

Q: What might the points of convergence be between the two parts?

Father Hofmann: One point of convergence is the importance of religion and of finding one’s own identity. Catholics should not develop their identity in the sacristy, but rather in social and public life. So, Jews and Catholics must work together, we have so many values in common. The Ten Commandments are a common basis, for example.

There is also the need to help the poor and those who live on the margins of society. There are so many values that we can realize together.

Q: What expectations do you have for this event?

Father Hofmann: The expectations are generally to deepen friendship between Catholics and Jews at the international level, to make progress in and deepen our dialogue. A rabbi spoke for the first time at the bishops’ synod in Rome, for example. This is an important step for me.

We must develop this activity, getting future generations involved and also working together with the Orthodox Churches because they are present in the countries of Eastern Europe.

For instance, for the first time a representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople of the Orthodox Church will be coming. We must cooperate more intensely with the Orthodox Church in the future. So, Catholics, Orthodox and Jews.

Q: The world Synod of Bishops on the Word of God has just concluded. In what way will this assembly influence the meeting in Hungary?

Father Hofmann: As Cardinal [Walter] Kasper said, the Word of God as Word revealed by God has importance for both Jews and Catholics. So, it will be important to develop biblical studies more and to have more contact with the Bible. This would be an important thing to develop among Jews and Catholics.

Q: What are the peculiarities of Jewish-Catholic dialogue in the context of Eastern Europe?

Father Hofmann: Let us say that the Jews in Eastern European countries suffered in a particular way under the communist regime. Their identity has depended on this historical fact. Now, after the opening up [of these countries], they have to find a new identity.

We Catholics also have to live in this different context and dialogue with the Jews. But for me Hungary is an example. In Budapest, in fact, Jews and Catholics happily coexist. We want to see how the relationships are in other Eastern European countries. This is why we have also invited the Archbishop of Moscow. There will be a bishop from Poland and from Belarus. We want to see how we can make progress in this dialogue in the countries of Eastern Europe.

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