Queensland: Catholics and Jews in Conversation

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and The Executive Council of Australian Jewry held their 22nd Annual Conversation this week, on the subject of “How Does Our Faith Tradition Speak into the Current Pandemic and How Do We Draw on the Richness of our Respective Traditions

While the previous 21 Conversations have been held in cathedrals, synagogues, churches, museums and board rooms, the 2020 Conversation was held over the zoom platform and involved participants from seven cities around Australia. The Catholic delegation was Chaired by Bishop Michael McKenna, the Chair of the Bishops Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue and the Jewish delegation was Chaired by Jeremy Jones, former President of the ECAJ who is the Director of International and of Community Affairs of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

“This Conversation marks the 55th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican document which heralded a dramatically different relationship between Catholics and Jews, which has led to the flourishing of dialogue and cooperation”, Jeremy Jones told the meeting.

“The way in which Catholics and Jews in Australia conduct informative, respectful and inspiring Conversations most likely exceeds anything that would have been imagined back in 1965” he said, and these comments were endorsed by Bishop McKenna.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the Bishops Conference opened the formal presentations with a commentary on foundational Jewish and Christian holy texts which dealt with catastrophic situations, raising the question of “Where is God”. He discussed the way Christianity and Judaism have responded at times when society seems to be in danger of imminent collapse, how the religions addressed crises in history and how we can use religious teachings to move forward. Sister Mary Reaburn of the Sisters of Zion spoke of the importance of protecting human physical life and nurturing spiritual life in this time of crisis, and also spoke of lessons and even benefits which have resulted from disruptive circumstances.

Rabbi Alon Meltzer from The Shalom Institute, Melinda Jones, President of the National Council of Jewish Women in Australia and Rabbi Ralph Genende, Senior Rabbi of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation and Senior Rabbi of the Australian Defence Force, presented a range of Jewish thoughts on the issues of plague, community, hope, isolation and dealing with diversity. They covered issues including the transmission of faith, timeless messages which transcend temporal circumstances, what it means to choose life, challenges which are specific to women and men respectively and universal messages from specific teachings.

Following the formal presentations, other Jewish and Catholic delegates contributed to a lively and informative discussion, with optimism resulting from seeing the way communities had lent support to the vulnerable to serious concern at some of the behaviour which we were witnessing, and a wide range of views on what religious may look like in a post-pandemic environment amongst the many issues raised.



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