“Anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish prejudice, which today goes hand in hand with anti-Zionism, continues to thrive. Let it suffice to remember that according to data released by the World Jewish Congress, in 2016 there have been as many as 382 thousand anti-Semitic messages online, one every 83 seconds. I don’t think that those who posted those messages are all atheists”, said Monsignor Ambrogio Spreafico, bishop of Frosinone-Veroli-Ferentino, President of the CEI Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue, exemplifying the importance of the Day for reflection and development of Jewish-Christian dialogue. The Day is celebrated every year by the Italian Church on January 17 (ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity), now in its 23rd edition. The bishop will address the issue during a panel lecture in Bologna on January 16 with Rabbi Alfonso Arbib, President of the Rabbinical Assembly, on the invitation of the Saint Dominic Centre and of the Theological Faculty of Emilia Romagna.
“While the Country’s cultural and social environment continues showing signs of deep-rooted backwardness in the relations between its different components – states the presentation of the Bologna initiative – the purpose of the Day is to promote mutual knowledge and understanding within Christian and Jewish communities, thereby developing a veritable practice of common hope
for a future of true shalom”.
Winds of extremism in Europe. Bishop Spreafico shares with the Jewish communities in Italy the concerns over the resurgence of ideologies that were thought to belong to a bygone past, but which the facts prove to the contrary. He called upon Catholic communities not to lower their guard. “The reemergence of far-right movements throughout Europe – the bishop remarked – is fuelled by anti-Semitism; it constitutes the sustenance of their propaganda! That’s why the Days are all the more necessary and they should be celebrated throughout. We need to reflect, to understand, helping our communities – I am obviously referring to Catholic communities – acknowledge the teachings developed with the Second Vatican Council, a fundamental part of our relationship with Judaism and of our understanding of our faith in
Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew in all respects.”
Steps of dialogue. For this year’s Day Catholic and Jews have chosen as their theme the Book of Lamentations, from the five Megillot. The proposed Materials take stock of the progress made in Jewish-Christian relations. Fifty years of dialogue initiated by the Council Declaration “Nostra Aetate”, followed by a set of important official documents of the Catholic Church, enriched by the visits and gestures of the Pontiffs, starting with the historic visit of John Paul II to the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986, followed by those of Benedict XVI and Francis, in addition to the pilgrimages to the Holy Land with the visit to the Western Wall and to Yad Vashem.
The latest step (which some described as a “historic landmark”) was the presentation of the document “Between Jerusalem and Rome. Reflections on 50 years of Nostra Aetate” to Pope Francis. In the document for the first time a group of distinguished representatives of Orthodox Judaism reflect – and, most of all, acknowledge – the steps made by the Catholic Church in the past 50 years.
However, it is feared that these documents and achievements are not known by all Catholics.
These are fundamental documents and landmark events, Spreafico pointed out. They were produced by the Church magisterium to uproot “anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism from her theology, teaching, prayers, daily life, and from the language of her members once and for all.”
An increasingly urgent challenge. “We continue witnessing comments, expressions, behaviours, even on the part of Christians, that run counter to the direction definitely indicated by Catholic Magisterium. It is hoped that all those involved – exegetes, theologians, catechists, teachers of Catholic religion, priests and all the faith community, including lay Catholics – will promote a deeper knowledge of what the Catholic Church has offered us in the past fifty years, for there can be no dialogue without mutual knowledge and without dialogue coexistence is difficult, in fact it could become impossible. Dialogue is the only way leading to peace.”