Italia 1989A Day Dedicated to Judaism:
At its 1989 Autumn meeting the permanent Council of the Italian Episcopal Conference, on the initiative of the Secretariat for Ecumenism and Dialogue, proposed to the Italian Church the annual celebration of a day dedicated to "the deepening of the relationship of the Catholic Church with the Jewish People and to the development of Jewish-Christian dialogue". As far as I know the proposal has no precedent in other countries. For this reason there is need for precise explanations in order to answer questions which may arise.
In the first place the date chosen, 17th January, eve of the week of prayer for Christian Unity, has a double significance. It wishes to distinguish the ecumenical movement, aimed at bringing about unity between Christians from interconfessional dialogue, which, with the Jewish People, has its own particular and important inspiration in those common values which are based primarily on the Bible shared by both Jews and Christians. At the same time this immediate chronological precedence places the day for Jewish-Christian relations in the outward-looking movement of the Church towards dialogue with different religious confessions for the sake of the unity of the human family.
Premise and Inspiration:
The quality of this initiative of the CEI, of necessity evokes the atmosphere and the procedure that led up to it. In a journey at times made difficult by frequent polemic and residual antisemitism, there are also constructive moments like the visit of John Paul II to the Rome synagogue; the care with which the Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity follows up the different moments of dialogue; the meeting with Rabbi Toaff, invited to take part in a reunion of CEI's
Secretariate for Ecumenism and Dialogue; the constant and constructive relations with Prof. Tullia Zevi, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Italy, and with Dr. Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Rome.
It is evident that all these occasions have found their most profound inspiration in the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate. One can thus say that the day aims at translating and incarnating for ordinary Italian Christians this document, Chapter 4 of which suggests: "Since the spiritual patrimony of Jews and Christians is so great, this Sacred Synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogue".
The aim of the day:
The aim of the day is also to make the different ecclesial communities in Italy aware of the horizons opened up by another important Vatican document: Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" (1975).
In the light of the inspiration of these documents it is suggested that the day concentrates on improving "understanding of Jewish religious reality" (NA 4); on the elimination of religious prejudices; on an attitude of mutual trust between Christians and Jews by which the Jews "will be seen to be truly worthy of our reverence and our love" (Paul VI); on a dialogue, important elements in which will be deepening of biblical-theological understanding, community meetings, reciprocal visits; on co-operation in the defence of human rights; commitment to the struggle against discrimination, racism and antisemitism; initiatives for peace, justice and the integrity of creation.
CEI's Secretariate for Ecumenism and Dialogue suggests as a priority for this year the presentation to Christians of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate, above all Chapter 4.
In order to fully understand the significance of the day it must be said that the initiative. although fruit of constant dialogue with representatives of the Jewish world, has an internal value for the Catholic Church. In fact, with such an initiative the Church wishes to respond to the need for a greater self-understanding through one facet of her origins, while at the same time offering a gesture of dialogue and fraternity to the Jewish people.
The acceptance of it by the Jewish community has been in harmony with this spirit. Prof. Tullia Zevi answered my letter which communicated the intention of the permanent Council of the CEI by saying: "Such an announcement is received by us with very
great appreciation and satisfaction. I express here the complete availability of our community and its organisations and my personal collaboration in order to make this day as profitable as possible for the development of fraternal dialogue and mutual understanding."
All that remains to be done is to wish the different communities a day of real dialogue in which one not only talks "of" the Jewish people, or even "to" the Jewish people, but one talks in a fraternal way "with" a people rich both in biblical values and in so much suffering.
President of the CEI Secretariats for Ecumenism and Dialogue
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