Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County: Fostering a mutual understanding

Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County

The Rev. Patrick Desbois was the guest speaker at a March presentation of his work with Yahad-In Unum to identify the mass graves of Jews and others murdered by Nazis during WW II.

The Rev. Patrick Desbois was the guest speaker at a March presentation of his work with Yahad-In Unum to identify the mass graves of Jews and others murdered by Nazis during WW II.

Ivan Seligman/Special to the Eagle (2)
The Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County steering committee. The committee helps organize events that foster an open communication between people of the Jewish and Catholic faiths.

Ivan Seligman/Special to the Eagle (2) The Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County steering committee. The committee helps organize events that foster an open communication between people of the Jewish and Catholic faiths.

Ivan Seligman/Special to the EagleLenore Greenstein, left, with Jack T. Conroy, past chairman of the Federation's Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County. Greenstein's husband, the late Rabbi Howard Greenstein of the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island was one of the original organizers.

Ivan Seligman/Special to the EagleLenore Greenstein, left, with Jack T. Conroy, past chairman of the Federation's Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County. Greenstein's husband, the late Rabbi Howard Greenstein of the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island was one of the original organizers.

Photo with no caption

Photo by Steve Reynolds

Ivan Seligman/Special to the EagleMarty Gauthier is the co-chair of the Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County. Ivan Seligman/Special to the Banner

Ivan Seligman/Special to the EagleMarty Gauthier is the co-chair of the Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County. Ivan Seligman/Special to the Banner

It's all about keeping the channels of communication open.

"The Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County exists to encourage and to extend the bridge that connects our faiths," said David Willens, the group's executive director. "Our purpose is to engage Catholics and Jews in a reassessment of their long history and to advance the cause of mutual understanding and appreciation for our differences as well as our commonalities."

And the group is gearing up for another year of interdenominational cooperation.

Some of the CJD's 2012-13 season offerings include a mini-course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at four luncheon sessions in January and a Kristallnacht Memorial on Nov. 4, at St. Agnes Church with speaker Rabbi James Rudin who has met with Pope John Paul.

The idea behind the Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County started in 1992, when the late Rabbi Howard Greenstein of the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island and Joan Dunham helped to organize the Jewish Federation of Collier County' s Communit Relations Committee (CRC).

The group in its current form came to fruition in 2002, when it was created as a subcommittee of the federation's Community Relations Committee.

In the beginning, meetings were attended by a few couples who watched video teachings followed by lively discussion. But over the years, interest steadily increased.

Today, about 200 people of both faiths meet alternately at local Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues to enjoy book and film discussion groups, special programs and classes.

Proof of the CJD's popularity was evident in March when 750 people turned out to hear the Rev. Patrick Desbois, an internationally known Roman Catholic priest and the cofounder and president of Yahad-In Unum, speak at St. John the Evangelist Church.

Desbois described his work with Yahad-In Unum whose mission is to identify the numerous mass graves of Jews, Romans and others murdered by Nazis during World War II in the Ukraine and Belarus.

Former CJD co-chair, Jack T. Conroy, assistant professor at Barry University and Rice School for Pastoral Ministry, notes that there is a sense in which the rift that occurred almost two millennia ago between the two faiths can be compared to experiences of siblings from a divorced family.

"During that time, as in most divorces, each party acted out of something other than familial love; they said nasty things about each other and hurt each other. And, the ultimate act of intra-familial hurt was the Holocaust," offered Conroy.

As it can often happen in the aftermath of a nasty divorce, the children at some point, say "enough" and that is exactly what the Catholic Church did via the Vatican II document "Nostra Aetate," its statement against anti-Semitism. The decree condemned the 2000-year-old Catholic teaching of contempt for Jews and recognized that Jewish people are the elder brothers and sisters in faith of Catholics.

The process of reconciliation had to be initiated with the first step being an engagement in dialogue where both faiths acknowledge each other's value and heritage and affirm each other's traditions without denying their own, said Conroy.

For his part, Willens said the greatest accomplishment of the CJD has been the development and growth of the dialogue from a small steering committee to an organization that has worked collaboratively with many other organizations in the community.

"However, our greatest challenge and work still lies ahead and that is to engage the younger generations of Catholics and Jews into this dialogue," he added.

To learn more about the Jewish Federation of Collier County call (239) 263-4205 or visit jewishnaples.org.

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