Pope Benedict talks with Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, during his visit to Rome's main synagogue last year.


Pope Benedict talks with Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, during his visit to Rome's main synagogue last year.

June 20, 2011

Not without missteps, awkwardness and times of tension, significant steps have been made toward bettering the relationship between Christians and Jews.

Flare-ups and hurt feelings still continue to rise out of particular issues, says Father Murray Watson. Those controversies call into question the commitment, especially of Christians, to move beyond tolerance to "a partnership built on mutual respect, esteem and love."

Yet Watson says the good news is that more progress has been made in Catholic-Jewish relations over the past 50 years than in the previous two millennia.

Watson, a Scripture scholar at St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont., took part in an afternoon of dialogue on Jewish-Christian relations June 10 at St. Stephen's College at the University of Alberta.

Leading the conversation with Watson were Rabbi Daniel Friedman, and Denise Davis-Taylor.

Friedman is the rabbi of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton. For more than eight years he has been serving the community of 235 families. Davis-Taylor, a diaconal minister, is a United Church chaplain at the University of Alberta.

The event was arranged by Julien Hammond, director of the Edmonton Archdiocese's ecumenical and interfaith relations department.

The three faith leaders agreed that Edmonton is a model community for interfaith relations. The Edmonton Interfaith Centre, Phoenix Multi-faith Society and the archdiocese's active interaction with other faith groups are signs of positive interfaith relations.


Davis-Taylor said the strides being made are incredible, although people must still purge the myths about other faiths.

"Mythology keeps popping up in every generation. You have to work and work at ridding the mythology that demonizes the other and, in this case, Judaism and also with Islam.

"We still have Nazi youth, and anti-Semitism is still there. We can never forget that. These are the things we really need to call ourselves to account on as Christians," she said.

Watson said, "A lot of the dialogue that's gone on between Jews and Christians in the last 40 or 50 years hasn't trickled down to the level of the average parish or the average classroom.

"So although a lot of good things have been said, they haven't always been well communicated. People come in with outdated ideas, especially what the Catholic Church says about Judaism."


A pervasive problem is that Christian theologians tend to be selective about the biblical passages they choose in defining the Jewish-Christian relationship, he said.

They sometimes omit whole sections of the New Testament that speak positively about Judaism. Anti-Semitism is also a forgotten part of Catholic history. "Most of that history is swept under the rug."

During the first 1,500 years of Christianity, Jewish-Christian relations were "nasty," Watson said. But he's never seen that story told in seminary textbooks. "It's still not in the textbooks that I teach from."

Until Catholics learn about the history of the blood libels and the massacres of Jews during the Crusades, they will not have a clear view of themselves, he said. Entering into a genuine dialogue with Jews will be impossible.

Friedman said the differences between Jews and Christians are real and cannot be glossed over.

Rather than espousing the typical "we're all the same" attitude, the individual differences of varying faith groups should be acknowledged, he said.

"The only time the embarrassment comes is when we feel that the universalism of humanity trumps all," said Friedman. It is then that "we are embarrassed of who we are as individuals and our faiths and our religions and our personal ideologies we represent."