SASKATOON — A public presentation about Jewish-Christian relations was presented March 1 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, hosted by the Roman Catholic Diocesan Interfaith Commission.
Keynote speaker Sister Eileen Schuller, OSU, of the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., also spoke at the Dialogue and Diversity conference held Feb. 27 — 18 at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan.
At the public event, Holy Family pastor Rev. David Tumback welcomed those assembled to the cathedral, stressing the importance of cultivating dialogue and peace. Heather Fenyes, past president of Congregation Agudas Israel Synagogue in Saskatoon, brought greetings on behalf of Rabbi Claudio Jodorkovsky, who was unable to attend as a planned panel participant because of illness.
“One of the most remarkable things about Saskatoon is the relationships we have, that we are an example in the world,” said Fenyes. “Congregation Agudas Israel is 100 years old and we have 100 years of friendship that we are celebrating here in Saskatoon.”
Sister Kay MacDonald, NDS, introduced Schuller, who is a specialist in Jewish-Christian relations and an adviser to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and serves as the CCCB delegate on the Canadian Christian Jewish Consultation. Born in Alberta and an Ursuline Sister of Chatham, Schuller is a biblical scholar known for her study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Judaism.
In her talk, Schuller gave an overview of Jewish-Christian dialogue in Canada, particularly since the publication 50 years ago of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of the church to non-Christian religions.
Schuller stressed the need to research and preserve the memory of what has taken place in Jewish-Christian relations in Canada over the past 20 years, which has largely been undertaken by volunteers.
In recent years there has been a trend to move from focusing on Christian-Jewish relations, to the relations between Christians and many other faith communities, given the country’s increasing cultural and ethnic diversity, she noted. She also described regional diversities, and efforts to foster Jewish-Christian dialogue at universities. She noted the impact of groups like Scarboro Missions in Canada and the Sisters of Sion, whose charism has always been “to keep before the church the love of God for the Jewish people.”
Schuller described the evolution of the Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation, which was established by the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian Council of Churches and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Discussion has included practical issues such as refugees and immigration, and developments in the Middle East — which have at times included great emotion and tensions — she said, are “a reminder of the depth and complexity of what we are undertaking.”
Regarding the future, Schuller raised a number of questions, including whether Christian-Jewish dialogue might become more theologically focused, and how such dialogue fits into the context of broader, multifaith and multicultural conversations. There are also generational challenges, she said, describing students who are unaware about Judaism and who don’t perceive a need for Jewish-Christian dialogue. “How do we develop a new generation of leaders?”
Panelists Sister Lucy Thorson, NDS, and Rev. Scott Pittendrigh, rector and dean of St. John Anglican Cathedral, also spoke at the event.
Thorson focused on the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, calling for a spirit of remembering and giving thanks for the years of progress, while affirming and recommitting to present areas of growth and embracing the future with hope.
“We will never be able to sit back and say the work is done,” Thorson asserted. “The new agendas of the present day are no less vital or pressing.”
She called for ongoing and concrete initiatives, suggesting that the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document offers an “opportunity to become more aware, to deepen our understanding of our Jewish roots.”
Thorson noted that good dialogue experience is meant to be personal. “That’s what brings passion and commitment to Christian-Jewish dialogue: face-to-face encounters,” she said, calling for conversation and friendships that can then be translated into concrete, interfaith action.
She pointed to the hope she finds in seeing groups of Christian-Jewish youth, along with youth of other faiths, working together, “often linked to the arts, to social justice or to the environment (who are) . . . trying to commit themselves together to concrete actions of social engagement.” Social media and modern technology are also helping to share resources and new understandings, Thorson said.
“If after something like 1,800 years, Christians and Jews are continuing to try to take new steps, especially since the Second Vatican Council, in turning around their relationship from one of hostility and estrangement to the beginnings of friendship and solidarity, then this is a sign of hope for many other inter-religious conflicts that beset our planet today,” she said.
Pittendrigh said that Nostra Aetate was a forward-thinking document that laid the groundwork for dialogue. The statement that the Jewish people are not responsible for the death of Jesus might seem offensive to even raise today, but in 1965 it was a necessary first step to admitting to anti-Semitism and moving forward — “to push the boulder out of the way that for centuries had been blocking the road,” he said.
The Vatican II document also recognizes other world faiths as “reflecting an array of that truth which enlightens all people,” described Pittendrigh. The document provided a good model for other Christians to follow, including the Anglican Church, which has issued statements about the special relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which share their connection to Abraham, “a father of faith and a friend of God,” he said.
Pittendrigh also noted the groundbreaking work of one of the Anglican leaders in Christian-Jewish relations, Rev. Roland de Corneille, who died in December 2014. “All he wanted was a greater understanding between the two religions.”
Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen concluded the evening with words of thanks to participants.