The last week of January, I spent in Poland in Podkarpacie Region (formerly Galicia and where I come from), where from the 27 of January, until 3 of February in 70 villages and towns various meetings and events took place to mark the Holocaust Memorial Day in Poland. This invitation to come and become part of these events, came as a result of a meeting with the main organiser Prof. Wacław Wierzbieniec, at the academic conference, in Krakow in 2018.
It was already 11th year, when such commemorations took place in this part of Poland (part of shtetls before II World War and where today there is almost no Jewish Presence). The main initiator and organiser is Prof. Wacław Wierzbieniec, the Professor in the History Department at the University of Rzeszów, as well as head of the Department of History and Culture of Jews, there. Every year Prof. Wierzbieniec invites Holocaust Survivors, who this year came from Holland, Israel, Canada, the US. We were all greeted with friendship by the priests, mayors, residents and especially the school children, who displayed their knowledge about the Holocaust. These events are organised by local people, in parishes, centres, museums, schools and in the Jewish cemeteries or places marked by tragedy of Shoah.
The main celebration took place in Rzeszów, in a parish with the presence of the bishop of place- bp. Wątroba. During the ecumenical ceremony in the main parish, names of Jews and non-Jews from Podkarpacie, who perished during Holocaust were read. We went together to the Jewish cemetery where Jewish prayers, including Kaddish were said by the Rabbi and Jewish participants. Finally, at the Rzeszow University prof. Shimon Redlich (borned in Galicia region and saved by Polish and Ukrainian families during the War) received the highest academic title – the doctor honoris causa for his academic achievements.
Each day I was asked to go to a different place, to schools, museums, centres to give talks concerning Sion and interreligious dialogue. It is worth mentioning that in some of the schools, preparation for this event took place the whole month of January, where children learned about their local and Jewish history related to Shoah. Among the people who participated where the Jewish survivors from this villages and tows who came specially for this occasion and also the families whose members (or their parents or grandparents) received the title of the Righteous Among the Nations. In some places, I was among other speakers, often historians who spoke about Jewish local history.
In all visited places, I was very warmly welcomed. Many people expressed interested in our Sionian story – in our path on Jewish – Christian Dialogue. I was very surprised to discover the number of these commemorations, as 12 years ago nothing much was happening in my region on the local level, especially in these tiny villages who now so well educate their children about the Holocaust history. Every year more towns and villages joins this initiative and in other regions of Poland the 27th of January is marked in main cities.
Unfortunately, news about these events rarely get into the medias, not only in Poland but even more so around the world. Yes, these initiatives often are very local, but the important, as they are able to touch people’s lives and change their view about and relationships with the Neighbour – the one next to or the one who is no (more) so close.
The Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations (CCJR) is “an association of centers and institutes in the United States and Canada devoted to enhancing mutual understanding between Jews and Christians” (https://www.ccjr.us/). Celia Deutsch (Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.A.) attended the annual meeting held in Providence, Rhode Island Nov. 4 and 5, 2018, as a representative of the Sisters of Sion. The Sunday program included a panel discussion of the festschrift in honor of John Pawlikowski, Righting Relations after the Holocaust and Vatican II: Essays in Honor of John Pawlikowski. The keynote speaker was Dr. David Kertzer (Brown University, Providence), who spoke on “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara: the Continuing Controversy. Monday’s panels focused on perspectives on the Land/State of Israel: in Jewish theology, in Christian theology and in Christian-Jewish Dialogue.
Each year the CCJR gives a Shevet Achim award honoring a person who has made a significant contribution to Jewish-Christian dialogue. At the November meeting, Rabbi Abraham Skorka was honored for his work as a leader in dialogue in Argentina and internationally. Many people recognize him best for his work with Pope Francis, beginning with their collaboration in Buenos Aires Celia was one of those speaking in his honor, and focused on the theme of “dialogue” in Rabbi Skorka’s writing.
The meeting took place only a week after an armed gunman murdered eleven elderly Jews gathered for Shabbat services in Pittsburgh. For all those participating, our gathering was a moment to comfort and support one another, to take courage and recommit ourselves to building paths of justice and peace.
I had heard from Srs. Clare, Margaret and Kathy, NDS about the International Jewish Christian Bible Week for a number of years and they had given me the impression that it was a programme that marks memory for a long time. Finally, this year, I was able to take part in it, as well as sr. Kathy. The Jewish – Christian Bible Week takes place in Germany (in recent years in Haus Ohrbeck near Osnabrück) for 50 years. Jews and Christians from Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, the USA, Israel and other countries, scholars and interested lay people (this year 130 participants), came together at the Jewish-Christian Bible Week to study biblical texts against a background of the two traditions.
Every morning study groups take place, where Jews and Christians have an opportunity to study, discuss and share their knowledge concerning chosen biblical text, this year Genesis 1-3, Isaiah 42-49 and Jonah. Groups are formed according to knowledge of Hebrew and focus. In-depths study of the Hebrew text, canonical approach, Jewish – Christian Bible study, biblical text and the contemporary world, interpretation and creative response through visual art. Trust and an openness to listen to and to ask questions was deeply touching. This made me realise the gigantic changes that has happened in Jewish – Christian relations since the Nostra Aeatate document. In the afternoons, four lecturers: Dr. D. Kahn – Harris (Rabbi and a Jewish Bible Scholar), Prof. Halima Krausen (a Muslim Sheika and imam), Fr. Dr C. Rutishauser (a Jesuit, and a Bible Scholar) and H. Copper (a Rabbi and a psychoanalyst) delivered brilliant and often challenging presentations of studied biblical texts.
The shift in our mutual relations was also very visible during the moments of prayer. Each morning Christians were invited to come to Shacharit (Jewish morning prayer). Before each study session a there was a common recitation of a Psalm, first read in Hebrew and then in various languages. In the evenings Christians opened the door for everybody who wanted to listen to Christian liturgical prayer – Compline (a night prayer). Finally, at the end of the week everybody had a chance to experience Jewish Shabbat with its services (Kabbalat Shabbat, Shacharit and Havdalah) as well as Christian: on Saturday Vespers led by a Lutheran and on Sunday a Catholic Mass. An excellent interfaith choir was formed, often accompanied by professional musicians. Additionally, this year Rebekka Wedell, a composer, singer and pianist, composed for us a beautiful piece of music for the occasion of the Jubilee of the Bible Week.
This 50th year of the International Jewish – Christian Bible week was marked by the anniversary celebration during which one of the founders, Rabbi Dr. J. Magonet presented a talk ‘A Journey through Time 1969 – 2018’ when he picked up all the changes that had happened over the last fifty years. During the Kaleidoscope Rabbi M. Solomon spoke about the central place of Hebrew Scriptures during the Bible week, E. Sommer talked about studying the text with all one’s senses (through art, music etc), A. Boeckler and E. Hadem talked about worshipping in the presence of the Other, rabbi J. Baden about translations (as everything is in both languages: English and German). Finally U. Silber talked about the learning process that happens during the Bible week. Each of the presenters focused on the development and changes that had occurred from the beginning until today.
What also make this week very special are the friendships that are formed over this time. The inter-personal dialogues, conversations that take place in between the sessions and over the meals, are done in an atmosphere of trust and respect. This facilitates learning about the tradition of each one in a very informal but a deep way. The deceased participants from the previous years were remembered in the prayers (a few sisters of Sion were mentioned). Those who could not come had letters sent to them. This is how the Jewish – Christian Bible Week takes us beyond time and space and hopefully makes a difference (even if it is only tiny) so needed today in contemporary society.
Statement from sr. Pat NDS from the Philippines concerning the Bureau of Immigration’s Deportation Order against her:
‘After attending a Fact-Finding Mission and telling some Coca Cola workers that the social teachings of the church support them in their formation of an association and demands for regularization and a just wage, I somehow got the ire of the President. Since then, it has been a series of allegations and answers. Church people have been supportive in that the claim of the government is that “missionaries” should only teach doctrine and convert. The ecumenical community has moved beyond this years ago and all have social teachings which they believe need to be lived out in faithfulness to Jesus. The international community, particularly those in solidarity movements, see the charges that I should not take part in fora, rallies, fact finding missions, as against both the constitution here and also international law which ensures freedom of speech, association, movement and religion to all. It has been amazing the support I have had from people across the social spectrum. But it is also stressful knowing it is the president who is wanting me deported and the power he has here. It is difficult to plan and to live day to day. But it has forced me to verbalize why I have done what I have and strengthened my belief that Jesus is in those who are poor and oppressed and they help me define my baptismal commitment and vocation as a religious of Notre Dame de Sion which is sensitive to the outcast and called to work for the promises first given to the church for all.’
Sr. Wafaa Shehata NDS grew up in the village of El Berba in the diocese of Minya in Upper Egypt. During the time when Sr. Juliana and Sr. Darlene lived in Berba, she was the first young women finding her way to the congregation of “Notre Dame de Sion”. After her novitiate in Egypt accompanied by Sr. Juliana and her first vows in celebrated in her home village, she came the Jerusalem and stays with the St. Mary’s community in Ecce Homo. Here she works in the guesthouse and also is in contact with the arab speaking Christian communities. On Thursday June 28th she celebrated her commitment to final vows in the Basilica of Ecce Homo.
Sr Wafaa (from Egypt) prenounces her vows in June 2018 in Ecce Homo, Jerusalem
sr Wafaa signing her document with the prepetural vows
Arc. Fitzgerald signing Wafaa’s document as a witness
sr. Wafaa NDS with sr Adriana NDS (Congregational Leadership representative)
“First of all, I would like to thank God for my call to consecrated life in Sion. This is a gift and a grace and I thank God for my family the first to plant the seeds of faith love and giving. Also for being in Jerusalem, it is a blessing.
A very special thank you to Archbishop Michael for all he has done for me and for celebrating the Eucharist of my final vows and for a meaningful homily. I would like to thank Father Carlos, NDS for his presence and generosity. I am very grateful to Sister Adriana, the Delegate of the Superior General, Sister Mary Babic who gave me the great joy of receiving my final vows. I am deeply grateful to Sisters Juliana, Darlene and Trudy for your accompanying me these past years. You have walked with me, guiding me, and taught me how to be a sister of SION and I appreciate everything you have done for me. I thank the sisters who in one way or another helped me to get here.
A very special thank you to the Choir for making my celebration so joyful. In a special way, I would like to thank the community of Chemin Neuf for your presence and for sharing life with us. I would like to thank our volunteers John, Cecilia and Roselyn for your friendship and generosity. I thank those who were present at this celebration: the Ein karem Community, the brothers of Sion, our sisters from Egypt, our Ecce Homo staff, the participants in the biblical program and friends.
I thank my community in Ecce Homo very specially for their welcome, solidarity, support and readiness to help me in any way and making my day very special. I am deeply grateful to all my sisters and friends for all you have done for me, for your prayer, support, gifts and wishes. The generosity from each one of you made it a joyful and meaningful day for me. I am honored to be a Sion sister! Thank you to each one for making my day so beautiful. I appreciated all you did to make the day so special!” (Sr Wafaa Shehata, NDS)