A dream was actualized this week as a delegation of young Catholic Priests from Latin America, along with their local Jewish clergy counterparts, completed a Jewish-Christian educational mission in Israel. While in Israel the delegation discovered commonalities between their faiths, studied their joint histories, and established important groundwork including practical models to advance Jewish-Catholic relations back in their respective communities.
Participants joined from Brazil, Argentina and Colombia thanks to three partnering organizations who worked in tandem to make this opportunity a reality - the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps (WJDC), the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) and the Latin American Jewish Congress (LAJC). Priests were selected in cooperation with the Archbishops of São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Bogota.
"Since the Second Vatican Council, many Catholic and Jewish theologians have paved the way for our moment together in Israel," said CJCUC's Founder and Chancellor Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. He added "Unfortunately, both the Jewish and Christian communities are still unaware of these advancements. The purpose of this mission was to equip and empower these young priests to bring knowledge and understanding to their communities."
Rabbis and Jewish educators also participated to aid and facilitate future, follow-up programming at the local levels. "There is no question an experience in Israel can transform a person; however, once that individual goes home, it is easy to return back to the responsibilities of everyday life," said Claudio Epelman, Executive Director of the LAJC. "It is important we provide a network of local support and resources to help these leaders build upon what they learned in the Holy Land."
Half of the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world live in the Americas. "Pockets of cooperation exist between the Jewish and Catholic communities in Latin America, but a deeper acquaintance and cooperation is needed in this important continent," remarked Adam Koffler, Chairman of the WJDC. Koffler added, "We are living in a new era in Jewish-Catholic relations where both faith communities can play a significant role in solving global issues together."
In addition to high-profile meetings with Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop and Patriarchal vicar for Jerusalem at the Latin Patriarchate, and Israeli Ambassador (ret.) Oded Eran the delegation visited both Jewish and Christian holy sites throughout the country and had opportunities to learn from experienced theologians working to advance Jewish-Catholic relations for decades.
Commenting on the importance to visit Israel and learn about the advancements of Jewish-Catholic relations, Father Pedro Pereira of Brazil said, "here [in Brazil] we see the Jewish nation as a living covenantal faith community and not a relic in the past." He added, "It also gave us insight in understanding Jewish identity and how that it is intertwined in a collective responsibility for all communities around the world."