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N.Y. Archbishop Hosts Rabbis on Day of Pope's Synagogue Visit
Beth Griffin
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010
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NEW YORK (CNS)—As Pope Benedict XVI visited Rome's main synagogue Jan. 17, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York hosted a kosher buffet luncheon for 14 Jewish leaders at his residence.

Archbishop Dolan said, "You can never exaggerate the importance of hospitality."

Describing the invitation to Catholic News Service, he said, "Hospitality is a high virtue for my Jewish brothers and sisters. Hospitality is a big virtue for Christians.

"Jewish Scripture tells us that Abraham entertained God without knowing it because he was so gracious to guests," the archbishop continued, "so I figured, look, the chief rabbi of Rome, Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, is offering hospitality to the bishop of Rome, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, so darn it, why don't I offer hospitality to my Jewish colleagues?"

Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, called the pope's visit to Rome's synagogue "a historic moment in Catholic-Jewish relations."

He recalled that Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit a synagogue, in 1986. He said this second papal visit is "a moment for (the pope) to reaffirm how mature the relationship has become."

In his remarks before the meal, Archbishop Dolan said those present at the lunch could "rightfully share in the pride of the day," which he said was "a witness to our common desire for friendship and understanding."

He said the chief rabbi's invitation and the pope's acceptance of it were "two sides of the same coin, namely the friendship that began with the gracious and reconciling touch of (Pope) John Paul II of blessed memory." He said the friendship has extended itself between both communities in many parts of the world.

Archbishop Dolan candidly acknowledged past difficulties between Catholics and Jews and said there would be future struggles. He said, "Our past treatment of the Jewish community in Rome has at times been far less than just and at times given scandal to many."

But, he said "a commitment to bettering our relationship remains a religious duty to which we are mutually obliged."

"The good will we share in this effort has provided us with the resilience we often need in working our way through whatever questions arise on the journey we share," he said. "That commitment takes its strength from the God who prompts our hearts to undertake them and who never fails to nurture the projects he inspires."

Archbishop Dolan said Pope Benedict's visit endorses Pope John Paul's "heroic vision of the exchange of friendship in holy places" and demonstrates the continuity of two popes in their gesture and affection for the Jewish people.

He said the visit is actually a confirmation that Pope John Paul's historic outreach to befriend and reconcile Jews is an authentic and irreversible part of Catholic life and teaching and "not just his own eccentric habit."

He said it is part of the duty of the universal church inspired by the Second Vatican Council.
Archbishop Dolan said the luncheon guests had an opportunity to do in New York what Rabbi Di Segni and Benedict did in Rome, "to offer the world a common witness to the divine presence who creates and redeems, forgives and reconciles, builds and completes."

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, past president of Jewish Life Network, said although both Jews and Catholics share a common commitment to transforming and healing the world, during the first 2,000 years of their relationship, each religion based and validated itself on the illegitimacy of the other, instead of working side-by-side to effect that transformation.

He said Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul gave his generation "the amazing gift and blessing of the chance to reconcile and re-establish a common partnership."

Greenberg said Pope John XXXIII opened the door to repudiating anti-Semitism as part of his agenda to open the church to the modern world. He said Pope John Paul pushed even further to develop a new understanding between Christians and Jews.

Greenberg said Pope Benedict sent some "mixed messages" about how to carry out the reconciliation, and raised concern and suspicion among Jews, but he has continued John Paul's commitment and teaching. His visit to the Rome synagogue is a clear sign that he is interested in working together to solve mutual problems, he said.

Greenberg said Jews and Christians are similarly challenged to give joy to the Father in heaven, save the world and reconcile people to each other and to God, and use courage, faith and imagination, rather than violence and hostility.

Archbishop Dolan greeted his guests by name and gave each a warm hug as they came in out of the rain to his Madison Avenue residence adjacent to St. Patrick's Cathedral. He thanked them for coming on short notice and quipped that Sunday is a good day for the Jews and it's the only day of the week that priests and bishops work.

Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre and Archbishop Celestino Migliore, papal nuncio to the United Nations, also attended the luncheon, as did several priests active in Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

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