Thanks to a program sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, five Catholic educators from the archdiocese were selected to travel to the Holy Land for a 10-day trip to study Catholic-Jewish relations and the Holocaust.
The program, “Bearing Witness,” explores the history of anti-Semitism as well as issues in contemporary society and provides practical strategies for teachers to educate students about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
“The most important thing I learned about Catholic-Jewish relations was that it is an ongoing process,” participant Daniel O’Keefe told CNY.
O’Keefe is president and principal of Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx.
The 20 educators selected from across the nation visited sacred sites including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Nativity, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Yad Vashem museum. The program is made possible through a partnership between the Anti-Defamation League, the National Catholic Educational Association, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and local dioceses.
“In the over 50 years since Nostrae Aetate, significant strides have been made,” O’Keefe said. “Making the effort to understand another faith with which we share so much will continue to make a difference.”
Nostrae Aetate is the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1965 as part of the Second Vatican Council.
In addition to visiting the sites, the group heard from speakers, including Hanneli Pick-Goslar, Anne Frank’s close friend; Yossi Klein Halevi, an author who wrote about the Six-Day War; and other artists, journalists, civic leaders and military personnel.
“The constant message that seemed to resonate was that people truly desire peace,” O’Keefe said. “Open dialogue between religions and cultures is the key to that peace.”
Alina Troya, a religious studies teacher and co-director of global programs at Holy Child School in Rye, spoke about she was inspired by the visit to the Western Wall.
“The Western Wall was incredible to see,” she said. “The image of John Paul II praying at the Wall has always been a symbol of interfaith relations in my mind, so it was moving for me to stand there…The joy we witnessed in the prayers of the people was unique. On the women’s side of the Wall, I placed my prayers and the prayers I brought with me from friends at my school into a crack.
“I stood alongside young Jewish girls praying so fervently that they were crying. They helped reawaken in me a sense of inner faith and strength that I haven’t felt in a while,” she said.
Martin Carney, campus minister and religious studies teacher at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, brought the scene at the wall to life with his description of what he saw there.
“Hundreds of Jews were gathered in front of the Wall—praying, dancing, singing, reading Torah. The faith, joy and community were amazing. I prayed against the wall and had tears rolling down my cheeks,” he said.
Other participants from the archdiocese were Matthew Bobo, also of Fordham Prep, and Brother William Sherlog, C.F.C., of Cardinal Hayes High School, the Bronx.
Visiting sites in Israel, which is about the size of New Jersey, reminded Ms. Troya that “Christians and Jews have such a rich, shared history.”
So many of the places we visited moved me to tears as I recognized that I was walking in the same place that Jesus walked. But Jesus was Jewish and so these very same spots had Jewish significance long before it was Christian.”
One thing that she said she would share with her students is that “our values bring us together—love of God, love of family and love of neighbor, even the stranger among us,” she said.