19th annual Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture brings together Chicago’s Catholic and Jewish communities to discuss the legacy of Vatican II

Father Crossin image

Drawing over 200 community members and religious leaders representing the Catholic and Jewish communities in Chicago, the 19th Annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture was held on March 31 at Temple Sholom in Lakeview.

Watch the lecture.

As part of an honored and long-standing tradition of Catholic-Jewish dialogue in Chicago, the lecture has served as the significant annual event for Catholic-Jewish relations and is now recognized internationally as the premier encounter between these communities. The yearly event honors the legacy and memory of the late Cardinal Bernardin, whose efforts to encourage public dialogue with the Jewish community opened new horizons for scholarship and interreligious dialogue. The first lecture, entitled, “Anti-Semitism: The Historical Legacy and the Continuing Challenge for Christians,” was delivered by Cardinal Bernardin at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel in 1995. 

This year’s event featured welcome remarks from Francis Cardinal George, OMI, and a lecture by Rev. John W. Crossin, OSFS, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal George said that the lecture has become a hallmark of the ongoing dialogue and friendship between the Jewish and Catholic communities in Chicago, and the topic of Father Crossin’s lecture is vital to our mutual understanding and relationship as we go forward. He reflected on differing perspectives on the land of Israel between Catholics and Jews, and he urged all to appreciate the different meanings of Israel and to learn from them, even if we do not share them.

“Our relationship is too important to simply talk past each other,” Cardinal George said. “Instead, our goal needs to be that of a Beit Midrash – a house of study.”

Father Crossin shared his reflections on “What Changed at Vatican II: Past, Present and Future Perspectives on Catholic-Jewish Relations.” The Second Vatican Council (also known as Vatican II) gathered around 2,000 bishops and thousands of observers for four sessions between 1962 and 1965. At that time, it was the first ecumenical council – an assembly of Roman Catholic religious leaders meant to settle doctrinal issues– in nearly 100 years.

Nostra Aetate, the 1965 Declaration on the Church’s Relationship to Non-Christian Religions, was one of the most influential and celebrated documents to arise out of Vatican II. Nostra Aetate made possible a new and positive relationship between Jews and Catholics by proclaiming that “what happened in [Christ’s] passion cannot be charged against all the Jews” and “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God,”  while also condemning acts of anti-Semitism.

As we approach the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate in 2015, the time is ripe for reflections on its meaning today. Father Crossin suggested that “a new and coherent way of Catholic-Jewish self-understanding and acting will continue to emerge in the post-modern period.” 

“The teaching of Nostra Aetate has been received and caused a fundamental reorientation in Catholic thinking and action,” he said. “And we are witnesses to that as participants tonight in this series of Lectures which are a significant change and a continuing development of Nostra Aetate.”

Looking to the future, Father Crossin emphasized that while we have a rich history of Catholic-Jewish friendship, both religions need to pass on this legacy to future generations, including young Catholic seminarians being taught about the Jewish religion and the Jewish community teaching young adults about Nostra Aetate.  Father Crossin offered practical advice for fostering listening and understanding in order to encourage relationships of mutual understanding. He said interfaith relations need to be face-to-face and person-to-person, rather than viewing people in categories. This is the best way to establish a relationship, and honest dialogue is rooted in our deep and genuine relationships to each other.  

The Program closed with Rev. Thomas A. Baima, Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of Chicago, announcing the 20th Annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture, which will take place on March 9, 2015 at DePaul University’s Student Campus Center.  Next year’s program will feature guest lecturer Rabbi David Sandmel, currently the Crown Ryan Professor of Jewish Studies at the Catholic Theological Union and rabbi-educator at Temple Sholom, and soon-to-be Director of Interfaith Relations for the Anti-Defamation League in New York.

The 19th Annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago, the American Jewish Committee, the Chicago Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.  This program was made possible through the generosity of 2014 co-sponsors Temple Sholom and the Aaron M. Petuchowski Fund for Excellence in Jewish Education.

For more information about similar programs, please call 312-357-4770 or email JCRC1@juf.org. For more frequent updates, follow @ChicagoJCRC on Twitter.

Stephanie Sklar is Director of Domestic Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

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