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Theologian Gregory Baum, Vatican II participant, dies at 94

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Catholic News Service

TORONTO — Gregory Baum, one of Canada’s most influential and controversial theologians and a participant in the Second Vatican Council, died Oct. 18. He was 94.

Baum was the author of the first draft of “Nostra Aetate,” the Vatican II declaration that addressed the relations of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions.

Renowned Canadian theologian Gregory Baum, 94, author of the first draft of the Second Vatican Council’s “Nostra Aetate,” died Oct. 18 in a Montreal hospital.CNS photo/Francois Gloutnay, Presence)

After being admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal Oct. 8, he told a friend, “I’m disappearing inside.” He decided not to continue the dialysis treatment that had kept him alive for the last four years.

As a young theologian, then-Father Baum shot to prominence in the early days of Vatican II. He was mentored by Cardinal Augustin Bea, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. An ally of St. John XXIII, Cardinal Bea went looking for credible Catholic experts on Catholic-Jewish relations and found his man in Father Baum.

Gregory Baum was born to a Jewish mother and Protestant father in Berlin in 1923. At 17, in 1940, he came to Canada as a war refugee after a brief stay in England. Among the many Jewish refugees in camps in Quebec were young intellectuals who set up classes for the younger refugees, which Baum attended.

He became a Catholic during the war years and joined the Augustinian order in 1947. He was ordained a priest in 1954. He studied theology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and published “That They May Be One,” an influential book about Catholic ecumenism, in 1958.

His involvement in the Second Vatican Council began even before the world’s bishops met in Rome, as Vatican officials were planning the church’s first truly global meeting.

“I remember the first session I attended was in November 1960,” Baum told The Catholic Register, Toronto, in 2012. “I was at the first session of the secretariat in Rome. We had the first meeting with Cardinal Bea and Msgr. (later Cardinal Johannes) Willebrands, and this was all about ecumenism. At the end of the meeting Cardinal Bea said, ‘I just saw the pope and he said to us, he said that he wants the secretariat to prepare a statement to rethink the church’s relationship to the Jews.”

St. John XXIII’s concern about the 6 million Jews killed in the heart of Europe during World War II largely drove the Second Vatican Council. Baum had already begun publishing in academic journals about Catholic-Jewish relations.

Baum attended all three sessions of the council as a peritus, or theological expert, consulting on “Nostra Aetate”; the Decree on Ecumenism; and the Declaration on Religious Freedom.

After the council, Baum taught theology and ethics at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. He left the priesthood in 1974 and married. He studied sociology at the New School for Social Theory in New York and, in the 1980s, taught in the religious studies department at McGill University, Montreal.

Baum was a frequent target of conservative campaigners in English Canada and the United States. Msgr. Vincent Foy, a Canadian theologian, published frequent articles condemning Baum as a “Marxist … ex-priest.” Msgr. Foy popularized a theory that Baum had excommunicated himself by marrying before his laicization was formally recognized by the Vatican. Baum’s opinions on ordination of women and gay marriage drew frequent criticism.

Baum’s critics were further incensed when he published his 2016 autobiography, “The Oil Has Not Run Dry,” in which he spoke of his first homosexual experience, at the age of 40.

The author of more than 20 books, Baum said he was never worried by the criticism.

“I live in a dream world in Quebec,” he told The Catholic Register. “I still belong to a wide network of progressive Catholics. I never meet any conservatives.”

He was founder and editor of the influential journal The Ecumenist from 1962 to 2004. The journal highlighted connections between theology and sociology, politics and culture. In his retirement he became outspoken on Quebec politics, multiculturalism and economics.

     

Swan is associate editor of The Catholic Register, Toronto.

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Georgetown expert will discuss Catholic-Jewish relations at talks on Eastern Shore

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For The Dialog

A Catholic lay leader in interreligious relations believes a spiritual journey between Islam and the Catholic Church started half a century ago shows how members of the two faiths can live together and cooperate.

“In the everyday lived experience, Muslims and Catholics can get along … can respect each other” given their shared reliance on prayer and working for justice, said John Borelli. Read more »

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New Vatican document reflects on relations between Catholics, Jews

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Catholics are called to witness to their faith in Jesus before all people, including Jews, but the Catholic Church “neither conducts nor supports” any institutional missionary initiative directed toward Jews, says a new document from a Vatican commission.

How God will save the Jews if they do not explicitly believe in Christ is “an unfathomable divine mystery,” but one which must be affirmed since Catholics believe that God is faithful to his promises and therefore never revoked his covenant with the Jewish people, it says.

Czech Rabbi Karol Efraim Sidon lights the menorah of Hanukkah inside Europe's oldest active synagogue, The Old New Synagogue, in Prague, Czech Republic, in this 2010, file photo. Although Catholics are called to witness to their faith, the church "neither conducts nor supports" any institutional missionary initiative directed toward Jews, according to a new document from a Vatican commission. (CNS photo/Filip Singer, EPA)

Czech Rabbi Karol Efraim Sidon lights the menorah of Hanukkah inside Europe’s oldest active synagogue, The Old New Synagogue, in Prague, Czech Republic, in this 2010, file photo. Although Catholics are called to witness to their faith, the church “neither conducts nor supports” any institutional missionary initiative directed toward Jews, according to a new document from a Vatican commission. (CNS photo/Filip Singer, EPA)

In the statement, “The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable,” the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews gives thanks for 50 years of Catholic-Jewish dialogue and looks at some of the theological questions that have arisen in the dialogue and in Catholic theology since the Second Vatican Council.

The topics covered in the document, released Dec. 10, include: the meaning of “the Word of God” in Judaism and Christianity; the relationship between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament; the relationship between God’s covenant with Israel and the New Covenant; the meaning of the universality of salvation in Christ in view of “God’s unrevoked covenant” with the Jewish people; and what evangelization means in relation to the Jews.

The document explicitly states that it is not a “doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church,” but a reflection based on doctrine and flowing from Vatican II’s declaration “Nostra Aetate” on Catholic relations with other religions.

Like “Nostra Aetate,” the new document condemns all forms of anti-Semitism and affirms that Christianity’s relationship with Judaism is unique in the field of interreligious dialogue because of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. In addition to believing that the Jewish Scriptures are God’s revelation, Jesus and his disciples were practicing Jews, and many elements of Catholic liturgy developed out of formal Jewish prayer.

“One cannot understand Jesus’ teaching or that of his disciples without situating it within the Jewish horizon in the context of the living tradition of Israel,” the document says. “One would understand his teachings even less so if they were seen in opposition to this tradition.”

The Jewish roots of Christianity, it says, give the Christian faith its necessary “anchoring in salvation history,” showing how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are part of the story of God’s saving work since the beginning of time, and that Christianity is not a system of religious belief that appeared out of the blue with the birth of Jesus.

Because Catholics recognize their faith as having its roots in the faith of the Jews, the document says, dialogue and joint study bring obvious advantages to Catholic knowledge of the Bible and faith in the one God.

The first Jewish Christians continued to go to the synagogue and, the document said, historical evidence indicates the break between Christianity and Judaism, between the church and synagogue, may not have been complete until the 3rd century or even the 4th century.

In addition, modern rabbinical Judaism developed after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, the same time as Christianity was developing. For those reasons, the document says, Jews, too, can learn from Christian historical studies.

Within Catholic theology over the past 50 years, some scholars have hypothesized the existence and validity of two “covenants,”
one that God made with the Jews and one made through Jesus. The new document, however, insists “there can only be one single covenant history of God with humanity.”

At the same time, however, the document says God’s covenant with humanity developed over time: it was first forged with Abraham, then the law was given to Moses, then new promises were given to Noah.

“Each of these covenants incorporates the previous covenant and interprets it in a new way,” the document says. “That is also true for the New Covenant which for Christians is the final eternal covenant and, therefore, the definitive interpretation of what was promised by the prophets.”

The covenant sealed with the death and resurrection of Christ, it said, is “neither the annulment nor the replacement, but the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Covenant.”

However, one expert in Jewish-Christian relations said a belief that Jews have been replaced by Christians in God’s favor still
“is alive and well in the pews.”

Speaking at a Vatican news conference Dec. 10, Edward Kessler gave “a warning” that the Christian sense of “fulfillment easily slides into replacement,” which sees Christians as “the successor covenant people, elected by God to replace Israel because of the latter’s unfaithfulness.”

The expert in the study of Jewish-Christian relations and founder and director of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, England, welcomed the new document and said he hoped the progress being made in Catholic-Jewish relations would not be “limited to the elite,” but trickles down to everyday Catholics and Jews.

The Vatican document also rejects the notion that there are two paths to salvation, one for Christians and one for Jews.
“Confessing the universal and therefore also exclusive mediation of salvation through Jesus Christ belongs to the core of Christian faith.”

But that does not mean it is up to Christians to determine that God can save only those who explicitly acknowledge Christ as son of God and savior, it says. “Here we confront the mystery of God’s work, which is not a matter of missionary efforts to convert Jews, but rather the expectation that the Lord will bring about the hour when we will be united.”

A week before the Vatican document was released, two dozen Orthodox rabbis signed a “statement on Christianity” circulated by the Israel-based Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation.

“We acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,” the statement said. In separating Judaism and Christianity, God “willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies.”

In addition, the rabbis said, now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal covenant between God and Israel, “we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes.”

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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World expects believers to work together for peace, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The world expects all people of religious faith to work with everyone for a better future, Pope Francis told representatives of major religions.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with a member of the inter-religious community during his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 28. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with a member of the inter-religious community during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 28. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

“We can walk together taking care of each other and of creation” in joint projects that fight poverty, war and corruption and help people live in dignity, he told them during a special general audience dedicated to interreligious dialogue.

The audience in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 28 marked the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with other religions; the audience also recalled the historic first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 27, 1986.

“The flame, lit in Assisi, spread to the whole world and marks a permanent sign of peace,” Pope Francis said in his address.

The rain-soaked square was awash with color as thousands gathered under colorful umbrellas or plastic ponchos. Large groups of people came from other Christian communities and from other world religions and many held aloft olive branches. Representatives of many religious traditions sat in a VIP section near the pope and prayed in silence with him at the end of the audience.

Inviting the thousands gathered in the square to pray according to their own religious tradition, the pope said, “Let us ask the Lord to make us be more like brothers and sisters, and more like servants to our brothers and sisters in need.”

In his written address, the pope said, “The world looks to us believers, it urges us to collaborate with each other and people of goodwill who do not profess any religion, it asks from us effective responses to many issues: peace, hunger, poverty,” the environmental and economic crises, corruption, moral decay and violence, especially that waged in the name of religion.

Religions don’t have a special “recipe” to solve these problems, he said, “but we have a great resource, prayer. Prayer is our treasure,” which believers turn to in order to ask for those gifts people are yearning for.

Concerning the future of interreligious dialogue, he said, “the first thing we have to do is pray. Without the Lord, nothing is possible; with him, everything becomes” possible.

He asked that prayer lead people to follow the will of God, who wants everyone to recognize each other as brothers and sisters and to form a “great human family in a harmony of diversity.”

Unfortunately, much of the violence and terrorism unfolding in the world have made people suspicious or critical of religion, he said.

However, “although no religion is immune from the risk of fundamentalist or extremist deviations,” he said, people must look at the positive aspects of religious beliefs, especially how they are a source of hope for so many.

Pope Francis said respectful dialogue can lead to friendship and concrete initiatives between religious believers in serving the poor, the elderly, the marginalized and immigrants.

In fact, the upcoming Year of Mercy is the perfect occasion to work together on charitable projects, he said.

Charity, “where compassion especially counts, can unite with us many people who do not consider themselves to be believers or who are seeking God and truth,” and with anyone who makes those in need a priority, he said.

The pope also praised the profound improvements in Jewish-Christian relations. He said the past 50 years have seen indifference and conflict turn into collaboration and goodwill, and enemies and strangers have become friends and family.

Mutual understanding, respect and esteem make up the only path for fruitful dialogue, not only with Jews, but with Muslims as well, he said.

“The dialogue we need has to be open and respectful,” he said, and includes respecting people’s right to life, physical integrity and fundamental freedoms like freedom of conscience, thought, expression and religion.

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Cardinal Dolan calls for Catholics and Jews to build unity through God

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Catholics and Jews risk losing their hard-won interfaith amity if they take ecumenism for granted and fail to pass it along to a new generation of seminarians and laity, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said in an address at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The cardinal spoke May 6 about 50 years of substantive interactions that began with “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Time”), the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with non-Christian religions promulgated by Blessed Paul VI in 1965.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York is kissed by Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City, after Cardinal Dolan gave the annual John Paul II Center Lecture for Interreligious Understanding at the seminary May 6. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York is kissed by Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City, after Cardinal Dolan gave the annual John Paul II Center Lecture for Interreligious Understanding at the seminary May 6. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

He told the audience at the annual John Paul II Center Lecture for Interreligious Understanding that St. John Paul II realized the dream of Nostra Aetate by trusting the Jewish community enough to invite it to become an ally in “the number one priority of his pontificate, to recover the primacy of the spiritual.”

The late pope believed, Cardinal Dolan said, “the most mortal toxin affecting the human project was the denial of God’s sovereignty, even his existence.” St. John Paul believed the Jews were the church’s most natural ally and shared his sense of urgency, he said.

As a young man in Poland, Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, “lost everything by the time he was in his early 20s,” and mourned the wartime disappearance of friends and the enforced absence of God from the country’s public expression, Cardinal Dolan explained. Catholics and Jews survived the World War II and postwar communism by relying on the wisdom of the psalms, specifically, “Only in God is my soul at rest,” he said.

“John Paul II saw today’s children of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David and the prophets as essential to recovery of the primacy of the divine in a world drugged to forget its Lord,” the cardinal said.

“Nostra Aetate tells us that all of us comprise a single community and have a single origin” and share a single goal, which is a union with God, he said.

Catholics and Jews have in common, he continued, an understanding of the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of every human life, an allegiance to God’s law, a solidarity and a mutual world view. “Human dignity in life is enhanced, not shackled, when we proclaim, ‘We want God,’” as crowds did during St. John Paul’s first visit to Poland after he became pope, the cardinal added.

Nostra Aetate inspired St. John Paul, Cardinal Dolan said, not just to tolerate Jews or have theological discussions with them, but to invite a “providential and urgent partnership flowing from a mutual faith, love and biblical roots, where Jews become like their prophets of old and Catholics like the Twelve Apostles, calling the world away from the worship of false gods, false idols, into the arms of the one true, eternal God who persistently and passionately loves us.”

In remarks to the audience, Arnold M. Eisen, Jewish Theological Seminary chancellor, said at a time when some use religion as a justification for killing others, Nostra Aetate and the seminary continue to demand that “religious voices in service of interreligious respect have a responsibility to be as loud and persistent as those that seek to drown out this commitment with bombs or bullets.”

Citing 20th-century Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Eisen said Jews and Christians need one another to face the challenges and expectations of a living God.

Such good relations between Catholics and Jews would not have been possible before the release of Nostra Aetate, Cardinal Dolan said, yet most Catholics do not remember that time. He said bishops and others worry that seminarians, for example, raised in a climate where “ecumenism and interfaith cooperation was taken for granted,” may think “you don’t have to work at it because it’s just there and it’s going to stay.”

“But we all know the hard way. If it’s not something you constantly work at and constantly remind yourself of, it will quickly dissipate.”

A strong effort to maintain good relations is “particularly incumbent on Catholics and Jews in the United States, because we live in a laboratory of ecumenical and interfaith amity. We really take it for granted and we know it works,” Cardinal Dolan said.

He said Pope Benedict XVI in particular insisted that the letter and spirit of Nostra Aetate be included both in catechetical materials for laypeople and seminary studies.

Cardinal Dolan also said Pope Francis is eager to learn about Americans during his upcoming visit but is a “little nervous” because he has never been to the U.S. and is “very shy about not knowing conversational English.”

He said a substantive interreligious meeting will be a high point of the pope’s time in New York, and that the pope told him and Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent representative to the United Nations, such a visit would be an essential element of his trip.

The lecture was sponsored by the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, the Russell Berrie Foundation and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

 

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Catholics, Jews urged to work together for religious freedom

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Catholics and Jews can most effectively capitalize on five decades of progress in their relations by joining forces to promote religious freedom, defend immigrants, face a common threat from fanatics and advocate for civility in politics and society, said New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.

He addressed more than 250 Jewish leaders assembled in New York Nov. 3 for the annual meeting of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights anti-Semitism.

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