Report on the visit of His Eminence Walter Cardinal Kasper
photos by Lee Pellegrini unless noted otherwise
His Eminence Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, was the Center's guest on November 5-6, 2002. His visit to Boston energized many existing endeavors in Christian-Jewish relations in the region and stimulated important conversation and reflection.
(l to r, front:) W. Harrelson, C. Williamson, R. Catalano, A. Eckardt, R. Langer, Cardinal Kasper (middle:) J. Merkle, M. Boys, E. Fleischner, J. Pawlikowski, P. Pettit (back:) P. Cunningham, J. Tyson, J. Spillman, C. Deutsch, J. Townsend. PAC photo.
His Eminence first met with members of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations. In the cozy setting of the Miramar Retreat Center, the Cardinal engaged in collegial discussion with fellow theologians on a wide range of topics pertinent to the Jewish and Christian relationship, including the United States social context, the different perspectives of diverse Christian churches, the need for constant education in the face of an upsurge in antisemitism - especially among those born after the issuance of Nostra Aetate in 1965, and a number of unresolved Christian theological issues that need further research (see below). The distinct yet complementary roles of church and academy in continuing the renewal begun by Nostra Aetate were also explored.
Cardinal Kasper describes the intrinsic relationship between Christianity and Judaism.
The following morning Cardinal Kasper conversed with about fifty members of the Boston College community, especially theology department faculty and students. The Cardinal began by noting important topics that need to be pursued: the positive moments of Christian-Jewish interactions over the centuries that might provide helpful models for today; the relationship between the two Catholic affirmations that Christ is universal savior and that Israel's saving covenant with God is unbroken; the nature of the witness of the Christians to Jews as distinct from their witness to Gentiles; how the spiritual significance of Eretz Israel for Jews is to be appreciated by Christian theology; and thorough and balanced research on the atrocity of the Shoah. Cardinal Kasper also expressed his appreciation of the existence in the United States of university centers focused on Jewish-Christian relations, particularly because such endeavors are rarely found in other parts of the world. He described their scholarly endeavors as important to the universal church. These remarks were followed by a lively question and answer period that explored numerous facets of the issues that the Cardinal had raised.
Cardinal Kasper, Ruth Langer, Philip Cunningham, and Stephen Pope, theology department. chair.
Concerning one item of recent interest, the Reflections on Covenant and Mission, the Cardinal saw them as an important challenge and invitation to pursue still unresolved Christian theological questions. He also spoke of the "witness" of Christians (in preference to the term "mission") to Jews as qualitatively different than their witness to Gentiles because of the unbroken covenant. He felt that the precise nature of that difference needed further theological research. Cardinal Kasper noted that the unbroken covenant between God and Israel was part of God's plan of salvation and so saving for Jews despite the absence of an explicit faith in Christ. When questioned about the Southern Baptist counterclaim that salvation was impossible without explicit Christian faith, the Cardinal replied that the Catholic Church disagrees with Southern Baptists and other evangelical denominations about that.
President Jehuda Reinharz of Brandeis University graciously hosted a luncheon in Cardinal Kasper's honor. The one hundred invited guests were leaders of the Christian and Jewish communities in northern New England. Cardinal Kasper spoke about the work of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. He stressed that there would be no peace in the world without peace among the religions of the word. Therefore, the unfolding historic reconciliation between Jews and Christians is a sign of hope to a world in which hopelessness is widespread and especially in situations of interreligious conflict. Rev. Diane Kessler, director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, and Rabbi Barry Starr, president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, spoke of the history and current state of interreligious encounters in the greater Boston area. They emphasized the necessity of continuous dialogue, but also of personal friendship, in order to deepen mutual understanding and to work through disputes.
With Dietlinde Hamburger, exhibit curator (left) and Nancy Netzer, McMullen Museum director (right).
In the evening, Cardinal Kasper returned to Boston College. He first visited the McMullen Museum of Art and viewed the exhibit of self-portraits of German artists from the decades before the Shoah, entitled Reclaiming a Lost Generation: The Feldberg Collection. Exhibit curator Dr. Dietlinde Hamburger explained the biographies and importance of the artists presented in the exhibit, some of whose works were being done when Cardinal Kasper was a young German boy.
Following a dinner with patrons of the Center and leaders of the Boston College and Archdiocese of Boston communities, Cardinal Kasper delivered a major address with the title, "The Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews: A Crucial Endeavor of the Catholic Church." Among his important points were:
There cannot be peace in the world without peace between the world religions.
The history of developing a new relationship between Catholics and Jews has not been easy. It is only at the beginning of its beginning.
The task of interpreting and realizing Nostra Aetate in different situations continues.
Overcoming antisemitism is a constant task that must be renewed in each generation.
The many academic centers devoted to Christian-Jewish relations in the United States are a gift to the universal church.
The Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews follows, inspires, motivates, and sometimes initiates dialogues on the national and local levels. New initiatives in eastern Europe and Israel are particularly important.
Peace cannot come without dialogue. Dialogue requires respect for the otherness of the other.
Reflection and research on the Shoah must continue.
Christians must always give witness to their hope in Christ.
The witness of Christians to Gentiles is qualitatively different from that to Jews who live in an unbroken covenant with God. There is no organized Catholic missionary activity towards Jews as there is for all other non-Christian religions.
The distinctive witness of Christians to Jews must grapple with the unresolved theological question of how to relate the universality of Christ's redemption to Israel's eternal covenant, whose own understanding of their religious tradition is in line with God's plans.
Christian missionary activity is not simply targeting Jews or others for baptism. In its deepest sense it works toward the realization God's plan in world history.
Both Jews and Christians must give witness to their distinctive expressions of eschatological hope in a world that is often hopeless. Their own differences will not be resolved until the end of history.
Cardinal Kasper concluded with suggestions for three topics for future dialogue for Jews and Christians. These were (1) how remembrance is central to both traditions; (2) messianic awareness and eschatological hope; and (3) how in dialogue with the other we discover ourselves. The Cardinal urged that Christians and Jews stand shoulder to shoulder in their common hope for peace in justice.
Following his address, the Zamir Chorale of Boston performed a mini-concert in Cardinal Kasper's honor. Their selections offered of powerful musical echo to many of his remarks on commonalities and differences, purification of memory, hope for the future, and praise of God.