Catholic-Jewish Delegation Will Visit Auschwitz, Meet Privately With Pope

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Catholic-Jewish Delegation Will Visit Auschwitz, Meet Privately With Pope

“One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth.” The words are those of Pope Paul VI in his declaration on the relation of the Roman Catholic Church to non-Christian religions, in a document known as Nostra Aetate, issued on October 28, 1965.

The voice of the Pontiff still echoes across the decades, imploring religious leaders of the world to reach across divides to gain deeper appreciation and understanding of each other’s faiths. It’s a message that the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding of Sacred Heart University (CCJU) takes most seriously.

The CCJU will sponsor and host a study tour to Poland and Italy this September that will bring its nine participants first to Poland, where they will visit Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp at which 1.2 million Jews were murdered between 1942 and 1945, and then to the Vatican for a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The study tour will continue a dialogue between Catholics and Jews that began with Nostra Aetate and was perpetuated by subsequent Vatican documents and with the papacy of John Paul II, said CCJU Executive Director Rabbi Eugene Korn.

Korn and SHU President Anthony J. Cernera will accompany five American bishops and two rabbis on the trip, the secon such study tour arranged by the CCJU. The first was in 2005, and Korn said the center plans to sponsor the tour every two years.

“The thrust of this trip is to promote wider education. We want the participants to experience the history, as much as possible, of Auschwitz, and then we will go to Rome to have in-depth conversations about Jewish-Catholic relations with high-level people in the Vatican. When they return home to America, this message must be transferred to their communities,” Korn said.

At Auschwitz, Korn said he wants the group “to stand in silence and try to begin to understand the unimaginable horror that took place, to examine ourselves and our faiths to see what we can do to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again to anybody anywhere. We need to explore how our faiths can respond theologically and morally to the Holocaust, which really shattered the traditional conceptions about culture, morality and God’s relationship with human beings.”

From the Jewish side and the Catholic side, Korn said there has been serious theological grappling with the reality of the Holocaust.

“It takes the shock and the immediate power of that place to begin to profoundly understand the moral urgency of the Final Solution and what this means for us, both now and for the future,” Korn said.

In Krakow the group will visit the factory immortalized by the heroic actions of Oskar Schindler, who saved more than 1,200 Jews from certain death in Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers. They will tour the synagogue that was the center of thriving Jewish life in Krakow before the war, meet with Cardinal Stanislaus Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary for more than 40 years, and visit the Archdiocesan Museum, which houses the office of John Paul II when he was Archbishop of Krakow.

“John Paul II is the best model for Catholic grappling with the Holocaust. He was Polish, he lived through the war and he did heroic things during the war for Jews and all humanity,” Korn said.

During the audience with John Paul’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, Korn and Cernera will present the pontiff with the CCJU’s 2007 Nostra Aetate Award for his contribution to Jewish-Catholic relations.