* Demographics of both faiths changing significantly
* Both religions seek closer ties with Muslims
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS, March 2 (Reuters) - Jewish and Roman Catholic leaders
reviewing their dialogue over the past four decades expressed
concern on Wednesday that younger generations had little idea of
the historic reconciliation that has taken place between them.
The two faiths must keep this awareness alive at a time when
the last survivors of the Holocaust are dying and both the
Catholic and Jewish worlds are changing in significant ways,
they said at the end of a four-day interfaith conference.
The International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC)
met in Paris to discuss the future of the dialogue begun after
the Catholic Church renounced its anti-Semitism and declared its
respect for Judaism at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
"We have new generations for whom the problems between
Judaism and Christianity, especially the Shoah, are history,"
said Cardinal Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for relations
with Jews. "We can't leave that to history."
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee said:
"Today most young Catholics have no comprehension of how tragic
the relationship in the past between Jews and Catholics was.
"Jews were viewed as the enemies of God, in league with the
devil, responsible for the tragedies of the world," he said, but
the Church now saw them as "dearly beloved elder brothers."
Relations have gone up and down in the 40 years since the
ILC first met in 1971. Current tensions -- over the planned
beatification of wartime Pope Pius XII or Holocaust denial by a
traditionalist bishop -- came up briefly at the conference.
"The issue is how to interpret them," said Rabbi Richard
Marker, the top world Jewish official for interfaith ties.
"While one might argue that, in the scheme of all our
achievements, these issues are merely symbolic, the fact that
they speak to sensitivities in the community makes them
important," he said.
NEED FOR EDUCATION
In recent decades, Catholics and Jews around the world have
held countless meetings, discussions and mutual visits to houses
of worship to improve contacts between the world's largest
religion, Christianity, and its smaller religious ancestor.
Illustrating their close ties, the Vatican on Wednesday
issued pre-publication excerpts of a new book by Pope Benedict
in which he gives a detailed explanation of why the Church no
longer accused the Jews of causing the death of Jesus.
Marker, who chairs the International Jewish Committee for
Interreligious Consultation (IJCIC), said demographic changes
would affect how the two faiths related to each other in future.
"Catholicism is becoming a Southern Hemisphere religion," he
said, referring to its growth in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
"They're not familiar with Judaism, they're not familiar with
each other and they're all different from European Catholicism."
Delegates to the ILC have traditionally been "northern and
western," he noted, and that would probably have to change.
Many participants saw interfaith dialogue as part of their
religious identity, he said, but there were now some Catholics
and some Orthodox Jews "who feel that dealing with the other is
not necessarily a productive enterprise."
The passing of the generations with direct knowledge of the
Holocaust would also change the dialogue, he said, adding: "It
takes two generations for something to go from memory to myth."
DIALOGUE WITH ISLAM
The closed-door talks took up the question of increasing
contacts with Muslims without setting out any new initiatives.
"We spoke about a trialogue of Catholics, Jews and Muslims
because we have a lot in common," Koch said. "But there are also
problems. Some terms don't always mean the same thing for us."
Marker said that IJCIC already held discussions with some
Muslim groups but there was no Islamic world body to speak to.
The Vatican also has contacts with different groups in Islam.
IJCIC's experience in bringing together different strands of
Judaism could be a useful model for Muslims trying to create a
world body to speak for them with Christians and Jews, he said.
"I think there will be two tracks," Marker said. "There will
be some space for trilateral dialogue and there will be a
necessity to maintain bilateral dialogue."
(Editing by Tim Pearce)
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