More Catholics Interested in Jewish World
Interview With President of Valencia's Judeo-Christian Friendship
By Inmaculada Álvarez
VALENCIA, Spain, FEB. 25, 2008 (Zenit.org).- More and more Catholics are taking an interest in the Jewish world, our "older brothers in the faith," said the president and founder of the association Judeo-Christian Friendship of Valencia.
Francisco Fontana Tormo, a Catholic and neurosurgeon, received in November from the Parliament of Israel the Samuel Toledano Prize for his contribution to the dialogue between Jews and Christians.
In this interview with ZENIT, Fontana speaks of his work and association, and the status of Jewish-Christian relations.
Q: In what does this recognition consist and what has it involved for you?
Fontana: The Samuel Toledano Prize was instituted by the Toledano family in memory of Samuel Toledano, leader of the Jewish community of Madrid, who died in 1996. The prize is given annually to two researchers, one Israeli and the other Spanish, for a research work about the Jewish past in Spain, for the relations between Spain and Israel and for the relationships between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Occasionally one is given a diploma of recognition for work, not research but activity, in the context of these areas. In this case, I have been given a diploma for my activities in promoting the mutual knowledge between Judaism and Christianity and maintaining good relations between both religions, as president and founder of the Judeo-Christian Friendship of Valencia.
For me it has implied great joy for what involves the recognition on the part of Jews for the Judeo-Christian relationship, and on the other hand, a deep emotion, since it was given to me by Isaac Navon, fifth president of Israel, in Kneset, the Parliament of Israel, and as well was an opportunity to travel again to Israel.
Q: What is the basis upon which the dialogue between Jews and Christians sits?
Fontana: We have a very similar concept on basic questions of morals and beliefs. There are many points in common: the importance of religion for personal and community life, the basic dignity of being human, created in the image and likeness of God, God as giver of the Ten Commandments, a salvation history which begins with Abraham, father of the believing.
We have the Bible in common. The Old Testament -- or Hebrew Talmud -- is contained in the Christian Bible. The Church has always been considered implanted into the ancient Israel. “If the root is holy, so are the branches. You […] were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:16-17).
Q: How has the Holocaust influenced this dialogue?
Fontana: The Holocaust has been determinant for Christianity to reopen its relationship with the Jewish people. The extermination of six million Jews during World War II has provoked the Christian Churches to ask themselves for their degree of responsibility in such a sizeable catastrophe, and whether or not an anti-Jewish Christianity had been a breeding ground for the Nazi persecution.
The Church has published a document, “We Remember; a Reflection on the Holocaust.” It has been like a veil has been lifted. The Catholic Church has taken into account that God does not break the Covenant with his people -- the Covenant was never abolished, as it is said very accurately. Also, the creation of the modern state of Israel, reviving the Jewish state, after almost 1,900 years of being dispersed among the nations, is an exceptional fact and without comparison in the history of humanity.
Q: Has the vision of the Jewish world about Jesus Christ and about the Church changed?
Fontana: Very slowly but surely, the Jewish world is changing its perception of the Catholic Church. The visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel and his gesture of praying at the Wailing Wall were fundamental, leaving there a beautiful prayer: “God of our Fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants, to bring Your Name to the nations. We are deeply sorry for sharing in that curse of history that caused suffering for your sons and we ask your forgiveness. We desire an authentic fraternity with the people of the Covenant.” This was a very important sign in the eyes of the Jewish people.
On the part of Judaism, it does not have a centralized authority like the figure of the Pope in the Catholic Church, there are many voices and at times these are discordant, but there was published in 2002 a manifesto signed by 150 rabbis titled “Dabru Emet” -- To Speak the Truth. In it they recognize the change brought about by the Catholic Church and encouraged everyone to follow on this path of reconciliation and cooperation between Jews and Christians.
Q: Has the vision of Catholics about the Jewish world changed?
Fontana: In the Catholic Church it is also changing, however very slowly because the Catholic Church is very large and a change of direction cannot be brusque. On the part of the hierarchy they have published many official documents, which settle the doctrinal position of the Church.
The primary one is the Second Vatican Council declaration “Nostra Aetate” and the complementary documents “Orientations and Suggestions for the Application of the Conciliar Decree 'Nostra Aetate'” and “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Catholic Church.” With these, the Catholic Church fixes its current position faced to the Jewish people. In fact, there is a Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.
But one thing is the official documents and the other is the reality up to which the faithful, the change is very slow but is already being taken, there is more and more interest by the Catholic faithful in knowing things about the Jews and getting along well with them. The Catholics are taking into account the fact that the Jews are a people who pray, who hang onto their faith, who maintain their traditions -- an example in these times of secularization. “Our older bothers in the faith,” as John Paul II said.
Q: At what point is the dialogue and what are its perspectives?
Fontana: Currently the ice has been broken, there is no environment of hostility and there are desires to meet and even to cooperate on specific themes. There are projects of international assistance for the needy, Caritas and similar Jewish institutions, in countries of Africa, for example.
But there are goals to reach: referring to Judeo-Christian dialogue, a theological dialogue has not yet been entered into in-depth. We say that we are in the phase of greeting them and speaking about topics that do not produce frictions. The figure of Jesus Christ in his significance for Christians is difficult to approach for the Jews, just as the topic of the precepts of the Law of Moses is for Christians.
But yes, there are that could be talked about -- creation, the fall, redemption, the figure of the Messiah and the interpretations of each religion, in the aspects in which they are common and in which they disagree.
Everything else is a task for the future.