Cardinal addresses Jewish community

NEWTON — Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley made his first address to the Boston Jewish community May 10 at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center to mark the 40th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Church’s declaration on its relationship with other religions.

Among its proclamations, the document declares that the Jewish people cannot be held responsible for Christ’s crucifixion and “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

Issued in the last days of the Second Vatican Council, “Nostra Aetate”— which means “In our times”— conforms with the deeper strand of our tradition, the cardinal said. “God wants us to be friends.”

Quoting from a 2000 Jewish statement issued by a group of Rabbis on Jewish-Christian relations, the cardinal agreed that “Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon, but without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken a hold, nor could it have been carried out.”

During the Holocaust, too few Christians had the courage of their convictions, he said.

His address was peppered with examples of courageous actions of Christians opposing anti-Semitism. “Once and for all, we too must expose racism and anti-Semitism for what it is — a fraud, a lie, an affront to humanity,” he said.

“Nostra Aetate” is the direct received wisdom from the Holy Spirit, which assists us, illuminates us, and if need be corrects us, he said. “There is never a question of retreating. There can only be the question of how to go forward.”

Speaking about the future of Christian-Jewish relations, the cardinal urged “all Catholics to have a deepened awareness of our Hebrew roots.”

“Jesus Christ was a Jew, a descendant of King David’s. Mary and the apostles were Jews. Jesus Christ, made the God of Israel the God of the nations. We claim Abraham as our spiritual father. We venerate the Jewish Scriptures. Our theology and liturgy, indeed our history, our weekly Sabbath observance of the Lord’s Day, are all inexorably linked to the Jewish religion,” he said.

“We have much in common and we are both waiting for the same God,” he said. “The Church is the daughter of the synagogue.”

The event was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of New England, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston and the American Jewish Committee.

After the cardinal’s remarks, Andrew H. Tarsy, the New England director of the ADL, presented him with a framed momento of the night that commended his spirit of “Tikkun Olam,” a Hebrew phrase meaning “repairing the world.”

The cardinal had said in his address that he had always liked “the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam.

“As Catholics, we speak of repairing the world in terms of the social gospel, of building a civilization of love. I hope that we can do this together. Working together, we can address the social problems of our community and the world. Illiteracy, hunger, war, must be eliminated. Such goals can be achieved only if we are working together to repair the world, he said”

Joining members of the Jew-ish community were many Catholic participants in the Jewish-Catholic dialogue, including two coach busloads of congregants from Charlestown’s St. Francis de Sales Parish.

The St. Francis de Sales parishioners came to witness their pastor, Father Daniel J. Mahoney, receive the Tishler Confronting Anti-Semitism Award.

Tarsy said it was great to have so many from the Charlestown church in the audience because many members of the Jewish community had traveled to St. Francis de Sales to celebrate Mahoney’s 50th anniversary Mass. “We love you and we want to show you we appreciate your bringing us into your homes.”

Father Mahoney was given the award, created by Gerry Tishler and his wife Beth, in honor of his work throughout his 50 years in the priesthood, but Tishler said he wanted to highlight two examples.

In 1982, Father Mahoney, who is a chaplain with the Boston Fire Department, responded along with his firefighters to a blaze at a synagogue in Everett, he said.

Dressed in full fire-fighting gear, as was his custom, Father Mahoney found members of the congregation, who told him they had not been able to retrieve the Torah from the blaze, he said.

Tishler said Mahoney asked the location of the Torah and then rounded up a team of fire fighters to join him in a search and rescue mission.

But, it was not that simple.

When Mahoney opened the door to the synagogue, there was a burst of pressure that threw the team back 15 feet and knocked the priest and others unconscious.

When he awoke several minutes later, the priest got back on his feet, rounded up a new team of firefighters, found the Torah inside and gathering it in his arms carried it to safety, he said.

The second example of Mahoney’s support of strong Catholic-Jewish relations was during the controversy surrounding the naming of the new bridge over Charlestown for his friend, the late Leonard P. Zakim. Zakim was the former New England leader of the ADL and a pioneer in the reaching out to the Catholic community.

During the period of conflict, Tishler told Father Mahoney of one particular bigot, who was one of the loudest Charlestown critics of naming the bridge for Zakim, Tishler said.

Father Mahoney called on the man to hear him out.

Tishler said the critic was a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales. So when he saw him attend an ecumenical service at the Charlestown church he did not know what to expect.

Tishler said it even more unnerving when he saw the man approach Zakim’s widow, Joyce, after the Mass.

“I shuddered at what might happen,” Tishler recalled.

Almost afraid to know, Tishler said he went to Joyce afterward and asked her what the man had wanted. She told him that he said he had come to apologize.

When Father Mahoney was called up to receive his award, it was Joyce Zakim who made the presentation.

“He is a very special man to me. At the time we needed the support of the Charlestown community, Father Dan was there,” she said.

Clutching the heavy crystal award, the Charlestown fire-fighting priest said the award was an overwhelming moment in his life.

“By honoring me, you honor all the men and women, who stand up every hour to combat anti-Semitism,” he said.