Contemporary Questions about Covenants and Conversion

SJU’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations hosts public dialogue

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

PHILADELPHIA  (January 6, 2009) – In recent years, official relations between Jews and Catholics have been shaken by disputes over the biblical concept of covenant within the Jewish and Catholic traditions, and how these understandings affect their interrelationship.

On Sunday, January 11, Saint Joseph’s University’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations will host a public dialogue between Edward Kessler, Ph.D., of Cambridge University, a leading thinker in contemporary Judaism as well as Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim relations, and Institute director Philip A. Cunningham, Ph.D. The program will be held from 3 – 5 p.m. in room 103 of Mandeville Hall.

Among the questions that will be addressed is whether the purpose of interreligious dialogue is to persuade others about the Jewish or Christian faith, whether Catholics should pray for the conversion of Jews, and whether Catholics should undertake non-coercive “missions” to Jews. According to Cunningham, the resolution of these questions could set the pattern for the future of official Jewish-Catholic relations.

“The Jewish-Catholic dialogue has been under way for several decades now and has reached a level of maturity in which certain fundamental questions can no longer be avoided,” says Cunningham. “During the program, Prof. Kessler and I hope to model the rich transatlantic dialogue that is presently underway, while pushing some key issues that confront us.”

For the afternoon’s program, Kessler and Cunningham will each present prepared remarks, which they will then both discuss in an open forum, followed by a conversation with those who attend.

Kessler, a fellow of St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, England, is the founding director of the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths. He also serves as executive director of the Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations and the Centre for the Study of Jewish-Muslim Relations. Kessler is a prolific author who has written nine books and 26 articles, and is co-editor of the monumental A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations. His most recent book is What Do Jews Believe?

In addition to his role as director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, Cunningham is a professor of theology at Saint Joseph’s.  A member of the Advisory Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he has also served as a delegate for the Vatican at international conferences about Catholic-Jewish relations. He is the author of numerous books and articles and most recently co-edited the volume The Catholic Church and the Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome.

For more information about the program and the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, contact Cunningham at 610-660-1863, or

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-3240,

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