After Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement earlier this week, Jewish groups spoke warmly of his eight-year reign — with only a few reservations.
They recalled his visit to Israel, where he prayed at the Western Wall, met with the chief rabbis, and visited Yad Vashem. Throughout his papacy he visited synagogues and received Jewish delegations. Most importantly, he upheld the reconciliation efforts of his predecessor, John Paul II, and the teachings from the Second Vatican Council that transformed the Jewish-Catholic dialogue for the better.
That goodwill was tested, however, when Benedict revived a pre-Vatican II Good Friday Latin prayer that called for the conversion of Jews, moved the Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII one step closer to sainthood, and reached out to a conservative sect that rejected the teachings of the Second Vatican Council — and, in the process, revoked the excommunication of a bishop who turned out to be a Holocaust denier.
“Most of these were failures of communication, not substance,” Ruth Langer, of Boston College’s Theology Department, wrote in the Forward. “Only further and deeper dialogue and friendship will allow Jews and Catholics regularly to understand each other’s concerns and consistently to speak in a voice that the other will readily understand.”
If so, New Jersey Jews and Catholics can show the way. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University. During those six decades, Seton Hall provided a forum that anticipated Vatican II, helped inspire some of its major changes, and made good on its promises. The department, assisted by the Sister Rose Thering Fund, continues to educate teacher and scholars from all backgrounds to promote understanding between Christians and Jews.
The year of celebration will be marked with lectures, performances, panels, and, of course, opportunities for Catholics and Jews to discuss the next pope and build on the strengths of his predecessors.