The initiative of dialogue between Catholics and Jews undertaken by the Neocatechumenal Way by means of the birth of the Symphony Orchestra and Choir of the Neocatechumenal Way, and the execution of the catechetical symphonic celebration of the Suffering of the Innocents, is helping to renew and strengthen relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people in all parts of the world.
Recently the Symphony has been played in front of the “Gate of Death” of the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in the presence of 6 cardinals, 50 bishops, 35 rabbis and 15,000 people from all over the world. The dialogue and mutual knowledge that this event stimulated between the Jewish and the Catholic worlds has also reached the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way in South Africa, who had the honor to invite Rabbi Bryan Opert of the synagogue of Milnerton, Cape Town, to the Symphonic-Catechetical celebration in Auschwitz. Rabbi Opert gives spoke on his experience.
Q. Rabbi Opert, what is it of this event that touched you the most?
Rabbi Opert: I must say that the symphony was fantastic, but the moment that touched me the most is when the prayer of the Shema Israel – Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one – was performed by the orchestra and sung in chorus by all the 15,000 pilgrims who had come here from every part of Europe. Praying the Shemá along with all these people is something that in my entire life I had never experienced. Something that goes beyond the simple joy or sadness, it was a greater feeling, that almost overtook me.
Q. What is your experience of relations between Jews and Catholics?
Rabbi Opert: Personally I witness in the South African reality a great interest of the Christian world for the Jewish religion. Many Christians come to us asking to deepen the roots of their faith. To attend this event in Auschwitz has been for me a confirmation that we are living a special moment in the relations between Jews and Catholics. I was impressed at the end of the concert, looking at the thousands of people leaving the area of the concert, walking along those tracks that once brought to death. All those people, the majority of whom are Catholic, noticing that I am a rabbi smiled at me and greeted me with great affection and joy! This witness of love, in the place where less than 70 years ago the tragedy of the Holocaust took place, was incredible… Truly shocking!
Q. What do the Jewish and Catholic communities have in common today?
Rabbi Opert: Today, especially in the countries where the Catholic Church is a minority, like South Africa, we are facing many common challenges. We are religious minorities in the midst of a secular world, and we must give an ever more authentic witness of our religion to be able to transmit it to the next generations. I was struck in particular to learn that the Neocatechumenal Way gives much attention to the formation of adults. This is also our challenge. Many people, because of their professionalism and preparation, interact with the secular world at a very high level, but at the same time they are not capable to live their religion with the same depth and knowledge. This can lead them to move away from the community, or to lose interest in it. We need to answer to their thirst!
Q. The rediscovery of the Jewish roots is central in the experience of the Neocatechumenal Way, especially when it comes to the transmission of the faith to the children.
Rabbi Opert: I was also impressed to hear Kiko Arguello talk about the importance of the defense of the Judeo-Christian family. The basic principles that we are ‘fighting’ for are so similar, solid family foundations, meaning in life and a spiritual core to existence.
Q. In these days you had a chance to meet personally Kiko and various others Rabbis and personalities of the Catholic Church. What has touched you the most of all these encounters?
Rabbi Opert: I feel that I cannot end of the interview without mentioning the personality of Kiko. It is rare to meet a man of such humility. Kiko for me embodied this on so many different levels. In a world that is so impressed with titles and letters that follow ones name, Kiko is an absolute anomaly. Not only is this not his name, which I thought it might be in the beginning, it is his nickname and that is how he is known and called, by all. For a man who is the initiator of The Way with 1 000 000 adherents access to him is so easy. I felt an incredible desire to thank him in person and could walk straight up to him and share my feelings and gratitude with him. It takes a truly extraordinary leader to be so ordinary. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to meet Kiko and to have been at the symphony.
Q. Any final thoughts?
Rabbi Opert: I must add that the organisation of the event was superb. Everything seemed to run like clockwork. I know what it is like to organize an event and it takes months of preparation, planning and especially prayer to make sure that on the day everything runs smoothly. And so it did. In fact it looked effortless. This added to the atmosphere of joy and delight in the experience.