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Brazil - Perspectives on Catholic-Jewish Dialogue for the Year 2000
*After centuries of conflict, persecution and death, and following the terrible catastrophe of World War II and the Holocaust, the third millennium holds signs of hope. We know, however, that a new millennium will effect neither a magical transformation nor the terrible catastrophe predicted by millenarianists. Any change will be the fruit of seeds being sown, cultivated and encouraged by humanity today.
Opening the doors to dialogue between Catholics and Jews, the Council document Nostra Aetate helped to inspire this hope. “Since Christians and Jews have such a common spiritual heritage, this sacred Council wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation. This can be obtained, especially, by way of biblical and theological enquiry and through friendly discussions.” (NA, 4) Of great historical and theological value, it takes a courageous stance against intolerance: “Indeed, the Church reproves every form of persecution against whomever it may be directed. Remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of antisemitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.” (NA, 4) In this and in other Vatican documents, the Dialogue finds important principles and objectives: to acquire mutual understanding, to strive for greater unity, to promote justice and religious freedom for all. It calls us to help effect the peace which the world so badly needs.
But reality does not always reflect our hope. Today, especially among the young, there is increasing discouragement caused by disillusionment, unemployment and frustration. UN efforts for peace appear powerless in face of the violence of incessant warfare. People continue to be martyrs of terrorism, while uncontrolled greed pollutes rivers and destroys forests as the planet is ravaged in spite of the warnings of ecologists. The hatred inspiring religious and political extremism poses other dangers.
Our past holds many unpleasant memories which must be recalled, not for sentimental reasons but to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Since interfaith dialogue is meaningless unless it is in the service of humanity, we strive to redeem history and define a new vision of peace and solidarity. “We condemn every act, every indication of religious, racial or sexual discrimination, and support human solidarity by every means possible.” (Annual Assembly 1995, AA, 95) For peace, justice is necessary. For justice, dialogue is indispensable. Dialogue is the way to peace.
The Path of Dialogue in Brazil. Three events mark the journey of Christian-Jewish dialogue in Brazil: 1) The Council of Christian-Jewish Relations CFCJ was founded in Sao Paulo in 1962 aiming to forge bonds of friendship and mutual understanding through cultural and religious activities. 2) Initiated by the National Bishops’ Conference of Brazil, the National Commission of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, DCJ-CNBB, was created in 1981. Working out of Brasilia and Sao Paulo it seeks “to encourage and enable Catholic and Jewish leaders to initiate religious dialogue in their respective communities and to confront all initiatives which oppose it.” 3) In 1997 the Christian-Jewish Young Leadership Section of CFCJ was begun in 1997 to help Christian and Jewish youth engage in interfaith dialogue. Due to these organizations many activities now flourish: friendly encounters, assemblies, declarations, interfaith celebrations and publications, Christian-Jewish fraternities and regional cells of DCJ.
The National Commission of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue of the Brazilian National Bishops’ Conference, DCJ-CNBB
The efforts of DCJ-CNBB are rooted in Nostra Aetate. Its initial effort to envision the nature of Catholic-Jewish dialogue in Brazil produced the document Guide for Catholic-Jewish Dialogue in Brazil, (CNBB Collected Studies, No. 46). The Commission developed regional sections in Manaus, BelPm, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo. To mark the 25th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate Annual Assemblies were begun to which members of the regional sections and persons interested in the Dialogue are invited. The past nine Assemblies have consisted of two days of reports and reviews, study, opportunities to share experiences and to develop orientations for the following year. Orientation resolutions have addressed the areas of Formation, Communication and Action.
Means are sought to “encourage formation for dialogue and to develop facilitating leadership among priests, rabbis, seminarians and professors of religion” (AA, 97), thus manifesting “the commitment of all participants to the unconditional defence of life and human dignity and, hence, to promote education for religious dialogue in view of forming mentalities open to ethical and moral values, historical and theological bonds, and friendly relationship between the Jewish and Catholic communities.” (AA, 92) The ninth Annual Assembly, during a study of “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah” took note of the road yet to be travelled in this regard. Brazilians face yet another task: “In light of the Church’s study of the period of the Inquisition, and aware that the year 2000 coincides with the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil, the DCJ sections will study the relationship between Judaism and Christianity during this period.” (AA, 98)
The Assemblies’ decision to “create a Web Site for Catholic-Jewish dialogue and to use the internet to the greatest advantage” produced two Web Sites, in Sao Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro, which provide information on the Dialogue. Since communication significantly shapes views and opinions, “the creation of TV programs through the involvement of our regional sections” was undertaken. (AA, 97) A number of radio and TV programmes are now available.
The belief that Dialogue’s effectiveness lies in its living witness and prophetic sign led to the decision that: “given the current globalization process and economic reality, the Assembly invites its participants to reflect on the challenges which they present and their ethical implications for our religious traditions. It hopes that this reflection will result in concrete proposals to promote greater respect for the human person and for our differences in the globalization context.” (AA, 96) In view of highly prejudiced political campaigns, it was decided to “seriously bring to the attention of regional and central electoral tribunals the means available to prevent prejudiced outbursts and racist expressions.” (AA, 94) In face of current fundamentalist tendencies DCJ “proposes to continue cultivating a spirit of understanding and respect for individual identities and personal differences, for religious and cultural diversity, safeguarding above all the fundamental rights and liberties of every human being.” (AA, 93) To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of WW II, the Commission “expressed its hope that nations and international organizations resist, confront and prevent the development of all racist efforts and neo-Nazi organizations.” (AA, 95) In 1996 DCJ-CNBB expressed the hope to gather together the three Abrahamic religions: “It is necessary to outline the stages needed for Jewish, Christian and Muslim trialogue in Brazil, in preparation for the Jubilee year 2000" and, “to not lose the ‘dream’ of trialogue in preparation for the third millennium.” (AA, 97) The dream became a reality when a IXth Assembly session chose the theme: “Children of Abraham: Tolerance in an Intolerant Society”!
Making Dialogue a Reality
While the Assemblies mark the annual rhythm of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, the regional sections of DCJ also provide a variety of other activities.
The Dialogue of Life.
Monthly meetings provide time to plan activities while building bonds of friendship, respect and mutual understanding. Reciprocal Church-Synagogue visits and participation in the celebration of religious feasts are increasingly enriching both communities. When the gates of a temple open and people of different religious traditions gather together, the walls of separation fall, bonds are formed and the first steps are taken toward the welfare of humanity.
Dialogue in Action.
“Christians and members of other confessions collaborate for the full development and liberation of people” in an effort to eliminate “all theory and practice susceptible to discrimination” whether of age, gender or nationality. At the IXth Annual Assembly in Curitiba, in recognition of a project to protect the lives of thousands of Brazilian children, the Jewish Community of Parana honored the President of Pastoral Ministry to the Children of Brazil, Dr. Zilda Arns Neumann, with the Community Service Award. Today this pediatrician’s efforts reach beyond the boundaries of the country. On March 29, 1998, the Sao Paulo Jewish community and DCJ-CNBB expressed gratitude to Dom Paulo Evaristo Cardinal Arns who, through his support of interreligious dialogue “has opened the doors of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo and encouraged his faithful to dialogue with those of other faiths.” His ministry has consistently defended human rights. “Citizen of the world, he appeared as the right man at the right moment. At the time of the military dictatorship’s new rise to power, his courageous voice, denouncing the evils of the abuse of power, spread from Sao Paulo to all of Brazil and throughout the world.” The Recife section of DCJ, in a project with a school for the blind, is encouraging the use of laser and promoting professional formation for the students.
Nostra Aetate and The Ten Points of Seelisberg highlight two basic principles: “We cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people in other than brotherly fashion, for all are created in God’s image…There is no basis therefore, either in theory or in practice for any discrimination between individual and individual, or between people and people arising either from human dignity or from the rights which flow from it.” (NA, 5) “Remember that the fundamental commandment of Christianity, to love God and one’s neighbour, proclaimed already in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, is binding upon both Christians and Jews in all human relations, without any exception.” (Seelisberg, 4)
“Mutual understanding and appreciation can be achieved, especially, by way of Biblical and theological inquiry and through friendly discussions.” (NA, 4) The Annual Assemblies provide all participants with an occasion for this. In Rio de Janeiro, the Loyola Centre at the Catholic University integrates in its courses, debates, and round-tables themes relating to Catholic-Jewish Dialogue. “All must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the Spirit of Christ.” (NA, 4) In view of this, in Sao Paulo in 1998, DCJ-CNBB developed a course on Formation for Dialogue in which Catholic and Jewish specialists addressed: A Historic Overview of the Relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and Jewish and Christian Feasts and Liturgies.
Dialogue through Religious Experience.
A visit by Tibetan monks to Brazil provided the occasion for a cultural and religious program as well as an opportunity to denounce the current persecutions in Tibet. DCJ-CNBB, along with other groups, initiated an interfaith celebration “Gathering the Traditions” which also commemorated the Year of Tolerance. Various religions were represented among the 15,000 people in attendance.
The approach of the Third Millennium raises the question: Will the new millennium simply be a continuation of individualism, wars, discrimination and contempt of God and humanity? Or will it be a new era for humanity in which each new day will help us to learn to live together in harmony with filial trust in God?
* Fr. José Bizon, responsible for Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue in the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, is Director of the House of Reconciliation and Catholic Coordinator of the National Commission for Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, DCJ-CNBB. His report has been translated from Portuguese and French.