Dialogue: a journey in friendship

by Sr Teresa Brittain

It all began with the fact that my best friend at school was Jewish; not that I ever asked her questions!

I just recognised that there was a difference between us and that was fine.

The document Nostra Aetate asked us to open the door to other world religions

Actually, reflecting back over those early days, I now realize that I gradually grew into this experience of friendship. Entering religious life in 1965 was a real blessing. It was the time of the Second Vatican Council. The document Nostra Aetate asked us to open the door to other world religions and specially to re-examine our relationship with Judaism. My work and, above all, my relationships with the Jewish people led me into a deeper understanding of the implications of this revolutionary teaching of the Catholic Church. My life is somehow radically connected to the root of Jesus’ historical identity. The journey of discovery is eternal and continually demanded that I allow myself to change. Gradually my self-identity has been forged in this relationship.

I gradually grew into this experience of friendship

There seem to be two significant aspects in this on-going relationship. The first is more academic. At a theological level it is important to continue examining and disseminating Church teaching to ensure that we are sensitised and aware of the dangers of anti-Semitism. My ministry involves connecting with diocesan structures and with groups like the Council of Christians and Jews together with its international counterpoint. I really love such involvements. The process of working on a book covering key topics of concern to Jewish and Christian communities was also a great joy. Our project was sponsored by the Council of Christians and Jews. We, an invited group of Jewish and Christian scholars and practitioners, seeking together, discussed honestly, wrote, and learned from each other. The project lasted for three years; then finally a book was published. This comment of Cardinal Kasper is a good description of the process:

“We have begun to seek a real encounter; we have contributed to mutual understanding of each other; and we have woven friendships. We have a sharper awareness that the world can no longer tolerate reciprocal ignorance, indifference and suspicion; we see more clearly that it is our duty to enter into dialogue in order to better our world and to purify our Church of the sin of division.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper

The second aspect is something I have always valued and can now experience at a different level because of living among the Jewish community of Manchester. I would say that I have grown to appreciate better what it is like to be Jew today, with the genuine concerns they hold about anti-Semitism and the complex situation in Israel; I understand more from the inside through their eyes, rather than my own interpretation.

There is a great joy in helping others experience friendship in diversity

Listening and celebratory opportunities abound; giving talks and entering conversations with varied local groups such as the Jewish League of Women, the Nicky Alliance Day Centre. Walking together in the daily tasks and sharing traditions honestly. The yearly Holocaust Remembrance Day is well organized. It brings together Jews, Christians, Muslims and many other groups (like refugees and asylum seekers). There is a great joy in sharing with local groups and helping others experience friendship in diversity. Small and large joint musical events when choirs come together build relationships at a different level. The remembrance of Nostra Aetate was hosted in this way at Manchester Town Hall. I know this is only a beginning. For this reason, I can join Théodore, our founder in saying, “The older I get the more I am convinced that the work of Sion is a reality of the present moment”. In the words of a woman poet:

I have crossed an ocean
I have lost my tongue
From the root of the old one
A new one has sprung.

from The fat black woman’s poems by Grace Nichols