Interfaith Dialogue: Strengthening the Bonds Between Jews and Christians

Events mark canonizations of two popes who transformed Jewish-Catholic relations

Friday, March 14, 2014

by Amanda Sapio ’13

PHILADELPHIA (March 14, 2014) – At the dawn of the 20th century, most Catholics and other Christians believed that Jews were divinely destined to experience suffering as a result of their alleged culpability for Christ’s crucifixion. To mark the upcoming canonizations of the two remarkable popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, who both worked to eliminate religiously based hostility to Judaism, Saint Joseph’s University’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations will host the series, “The Popes and the Jewish People: The Story of a Transformed Relationship,” featuring both general sessions and interfaith dialogues on texts from throughout the last several decades.  The series of five events begin March 20 and end May 1.

In 1904, Pope Saint Pius X declared, “Jews have not recognized Our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people,” reinforcing an attitude that would undercut Christian opposition to Nazi antisemitism. Now, the Catholic Church teaches that God's covenant of love with the Jewish people is strong, and they are the brothers and sisters of Christians.

“These events will provide an experience of interreligious dialogue: Jews and Christians studying and discussing relevant texts together over several sessions,” says Philip A. Cunningham, Ph.D., professor of theology and director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations. “This kind of focused, sustained conversation across religious lines will be a new experience for many. We hope participants become acquainted with the complicated dynamics that led to a revolutionary transformation in Catholic teaching about Jews and Judaism over the last century.” 

"We’re excited the Institute is offering a diverse range of educational opportunities,” says Adam Gregerman, Ph.D., assistant professor of Jewish Studies and assistant director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations. “Participants will have the chance to delve deeply into important religious history, and will learn about the papacy from a variety of perspectives."

A general session, “When Racism and Theology Mix,” will be held on Thurs., March 20, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., in the Haub Executive Suite on the fifth floor of McShain Hall. This opening presentation will discuss how antisemitism influenced Catholics, making living in Europe as a Jew during this time far more dangerous. The event will feature Kevin Spicer, C.S.C., Ph.D., a priest in the Congregation of the Holy Cross and a James J. Kenneally Distinguished Professor of History at Stonehill College in Easton, Ma. He is the author of Hitler’s Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism and Resisting the Third Reich: The Catholic Clergy in Hitler’s Berlin.

Three interfaith dialogues will be featured in April. The first event, “Can we Begin to Talk to Each Other? (1960s),” will be held on Thurs., April 3, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., in the Haub Executive Suite on the fifth floor of McShain Hall. This dialogue will focus on Pope John XXIII’s efforts in convening a church council to forge a relationship between Jews and Catholics, despite the powerful forces that made such exchanges difficult.

The second event, “How Can ‘The Dialogue’ Continue When We Strongly Disagree? (1980s-1990s),” will be held on Thurs., April 10, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., in the Haub Executive Suite on the fifth floor of McShain Hall. This will focus on the emphasis Pope John Paul II placed on rapprochement with Jews and the controversies that stemmed from their inter-religious relationships.

“Can We Learn from our Differences? (2000-2014),” the third interfaith dialogue, will be held on Thurs., April 24, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., in the Presidents’ Lounge in Campion Hall. Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis will be the primary conversation topics as they each broke new ground on Jewish-theological questions, especially with Pope Francis’ Jewish relationships in his native Argentina.

The series will conclude with a panel discussion, “The Legacies of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II,” on Sun., May 1, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., in the Presidents' Lounge located in the Campion Student Center. The discussion will focus on Pope Francis' homily at the canonization Mass for his two predecessors. The panelists are Cunningham, Gregerman, Shawn Krahmer, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, and Rocco Palmo, a former U.S. correspondent for the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, and founder of the highly regarded Catholic blog, "Whispers in the Loggia."

Each event is free and open to the public. No registration is needed for the opening and closing sessions, but registration is requested for the three dialogues.

For questions or comments, contact Cunningham at 610-660-1863 or, or Gregerman at 610-660-1878 or

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Director of Communications/CAS, 610-660-3240,

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