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 Vilnius, December 15: Conference Commemorating Nostra Aetate–joint initiative of Jewish and Catholic Communities

Archdiocese of Vilnius and Lithuanian Jewish Community have organized the conference commemorating 40 years of Declaration Nostra Aetate in Vilnius Archdicesan Curia on December15. The host of the meeting Cardinal Audrys Bačkis said, he appreciated the initiative of Jewish community in promoting the idea of the joint conference. In his introductory address he highlighted the theological principles of Nostra Aetate, marking new era in Judeo-Christian relationship, and the follow-up of the dialogue during the pontificate of John Paul II, continued by Benedict XVI. According to Cardinal Bačkis, some people deplored the fact that the Declaration Nostra Aetate did not explicitly contain condemnation of the Holocaust. He explained the theological perspective of the Council and pointed to the fact that the Council did not condemn ideology of Communism as well. Cardinal expressed willingness to share mutual friendship and true confidence with Jewish community, “not limiting ourselves by cold tolerance”.

Ambassador Gary Koren said, the transformation of Christian –Jewish relations, started with Vatican Declaration Nostra Aetate, has not been yet realized all over the world. He said, the ideas of Nostra Aetate still need special echo in Lithuania considering long history of Jewish population in the country. He invited both sides to be equipped with inner strength in order to overcome difficulties of mutual relations. Israeli Ambassador presented to Cardinal Archbishop of Vilnius the souvenir post stamps collection of the visit of John Paul II in the Holy Land.

Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Peter Stephen Zurbriggen shared his personal memories from the studies in Rome at the time of publication of the Declaration in 1965, recalling “euphoric time” caused by the action of the Holy Spirit. He also pointed to special “genius loci” of Vilnius, world famous “Lithuanian Jeusalem”, and referred to the preeminent leader of 18th-century Lithuanian Jewry, Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, Gaon of Vilna.

Lithuanian Chief Rabbi Chaim Burshtein spoke about the history of Jewish people in Lithuania since XIII century. He said, more than million of Jews in the world having Litvak ancestors roots, still have special affection and feel the bond with the country. Rabbi pleaded to help local Jewish community to restore incredibly rich heritage of Jewish culture in Vilnius.

Chairman of Lithuanian Jewish Community Simonas Alperavičius (Shimon Alperovitch) appreciated “historical opportunity” of the meeting. He also shared his comments on the document of Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews “We Remember: a Reflection on the Shoah”, and the Letter of Lithuanian Bishops on the Day of Repentance in Jubillee year 2000. According to Dr. Alperavičius, Lithuanian Bishops’ letter was issued with some retard, but, significantly, was not rejected by society. Chairman of Lithuanian Jewish Community criticized expressions of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, especially in recent publications related to the daily “Respublika”.

Prof. Izraelis Lempertas (Israel Lempert), member of the Board and the Council of Jewish community said, he found much compassion and love for Jews, especially in gestures and documents of Pope John Paul II. Prof. Lempertas paid special honor to Lithuanians who rescued Jews under Nazi occupation. He also spoke about the difficulties, both for Lithuanians and Jews, to overcome painful memories and stereotypes from the past.

Dr. Arűnas Streikus from Genocide and Resistance Research Centre analyzed Lithuanian-Jewish relations and the Church context during the Soviet occupation. General strategy of Soviet propaganda was to erase memory of Holocaust. Soviet attitude of silence was favorable for antijudaistic prejudices in the fifties. According to Dr. Streikus, antisoviet dissent movement for freedom of conscience contributed to better understanding and cooperation among nations of Soviet Union, especially after the seventies. He referred to few cases of polemics on Jewish issues in underground Catholic press. The shift of paradigm can be exemplified by 1991 homily of Jesuit Fr. Jonas Lauriűnas, opening the memorial for exterminated Jews in Linkmenys, in the East of Lithuania: “We should not accuse each other, but honor the memory of the suffering”.

Catholic Internet Service

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