Building bridges: Program seeks to forge ties between Catholics and Jews
Sat, Jan. 03, 2007
BY ALEXANDRA ALTER
More than 20 years after Pope John Paul II became the first Roman Catholic pontiff to visit a synagogue, South Florida Catholic and Jewish leaders are working to bridge a lingering divide between the two communities.
The ambitious pilot program — which kicked off with an interfaith service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Miami last fall and continues this month with a program at Temple Emanu-El on Miami Beach — involves gestures that range from distributing brochures to altering the curriculum of Catholic schools …
… The pilot program has gained support from the Anti Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the Archdiocese of Miami and the Miami Coalition of Christians and Jews and others, Howe said. Rabbis from places as far flung as Poland and Venezuela have expressed interest in launching similar interfaith efforts, said organizer Bernardo Benes, president of the Our Elder Brothers and Sisters Foundation, a Miami-based organization dedicated to fostering ties between Catholics and Jews.
Benes, a Cuban exile who co-founded the Cuban Hebrew Congregation on Miami Beach, said he learned of John Paul II’s interfaith work 12 years ago, when he read the book A Letter to a Jewish Friend: The Simple and Extraordinary Story of Pope John Paul II and his Jewish School Friend.
Benes said he was surprised to learn the pope held strong views on ties beween Judaism and Christianity.
“He called us Jews `Our elder brothers,'” said Benes, a retired attorney and banker, and renowned Cuban activist.
After the pope’s death in 2005, Benes decided to dedicate his life to promoting the pope’s vision. When he traveled to Rome to attend the pope’s funeral, Benes asked the Vatican’s newspaper to send him archival photos of John Paul II’s meetings with Jewish leaders and used the images to create a brochure outlining the pope’s teachings on Judaism. He has printed pamphlets in English, Spanish and Creole to distribute at schools, churches and synagogues across Miami.
The brochure is just a first step: Eventually, Benes and other community leaders hope churches and synagogues will observe April 13, the day the pope visited a synagogue in Rome in 1986, as an interfaith holiday. And later this month, Benes will meet with Catholic educators at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach to discuss changing the curriculum to include the late pope’s writings on Judaism.