By Elena Dini
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Three current Lay Centre students and a Lay Centre alumna attended the fifth Catholic-Jewish Emerging Leadership Conference, organized under the theme, “Youth and Religious Identity: Jews and Catholics in Conversation.”
The secretary of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews asked The Lay Centre to send participants to the July 1-4 conference, held in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The Lay Centre was represented by Tommaso Bacci, a student at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Christopher Donnelly, a doctoral candidate at Maynooth University and a student at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and Aljaž Krajnc, a student at Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.
They were among 25 young Catholic leaders, who dialogued with 25 young Jewish leaders. The conference is held every two years and is organized by the Holy See, the European Jewish Congress, and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations.
During three intense full days, participants listened to lectures by biblical scholars and experts in the history of Jewish-Christian dialogue, as well as former conference participants, including Rebecca Cohen. Cohen is an alumna of The Lay Centre, who spoke about her own experience of Jewish-Christian dialogue. The title of her presentation was “Hyphenated Identities and Spiritual Belonging.”
“I deepened my understanding of Judaism and the Jewish roots of Christianity. I became more familiar with Jewish life,” shares Krajnc. “I hope I will manage to use all gained experiences for my own spiritual growth, and the spiritual growth of all community in which I live.”
Bacci said he was “glad to experience the ‘multiformity’ of the Jewish representation and proceedings at this meeting.”
He said it is common among Catholics “to conceive Christian-Jewish dialogue as a bilateral conversation.”
However, he considers this perception to be “a very reductive image of what happened and is happening in this field. In reality, because of the diversity of the Jewish community, Catholic-Jewish dialogue is a more general category than a description of a single interaction,” he said.
Bacci also recounted his exchange with Allyson Zacharoff from Hartford Seminary in the United States, a former Russell Berrie fellow in Rome, who will begin her formation to become a rabbi next fall.
“Her insights about how she conceives this period of formation, and how interfaith activities led her to make this decision, were insightful and interesting to parallel with my own discernment,” said Bacci.
Donnelly said this “first experience with dialogue” allowed him to “see what skills were necessary to develop for engaging in it.”
“In the future, I would hope to gain the opportunity to engage in dialogue again as, following my experience in Vilnius, I feel as though I would now be able to give some contribution to the discussion,” he said.
All participants had to be familiar with recently published documents regarding Catholic-Jewish dialogue. They included: “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable,” published in 2015, by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews; “Between Jerusalem and Rome: Reflections on 50 Years of Nostra Aetate,” published last year and signed by the Conference of European Rabbis, the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem, and the Rabbinical Council of America; and “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians,” published in 2015, by a number of Orthodox Rabbis.
Apart from lectures, textual study and plenary sessions, the group enjoyed a few site visits, including one to the local synagogue, and a meeting with Archbishop Gintaras Linas Grušas of Vilnius.
Father Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the Vatican commission, and Rabbi David Sandmel, director of interreligious engagement at the Anti-Defamation League in New York, were mostly responsible for this year’s program.