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Archbishop, rabbi discuss how faith can respond to crises

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Scripture, encounter and human dignity all important to bear in mind as world faces pandemic, other issues.

Sharing the Scriptures and the idea that God created man in his own image, as well as the concept of encounter are some of the ways Jews and Catholics can respond to racism, a global health crisis, and social division, said a prominent bishop and rabbi.

Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia and Rabbi Abraham Skorka responded to questions during a July 31 online discussion about “Catholics, Jews and the Issues of Our Time.” The event was sponsored by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

One question during the forum regarded the new focus on racism in society, including recent incidents in which black people died as a result of police activity, as well as a recent Yale study showing that blacks and Hispanics are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than whites. Archbishop Perez said that Jews and Catholics have vigorously fought and continue to fight for racial equality, based on their common understanding of creation.

”We are all created in the likeness and image of God, and our dignity and our rights flow from that,” Perez said. “The state and the world around us do not give us our dignity or our rights. It is the job of the state to protect the rights and dignity that come with our personhood.“

The concept of “encounter” that is such a favorite theme of Pope Francis is one way both faiths can help heal society. Encounter, said Perez, is a powerful word “because it has biblical roots, because God encounters His people.”

“These moments of encounter that we’re having right now, albeit virtually, are important moments that have to be replicated,” Perez said. They “build bonds and build friendships by which, then, further understanding and healing could actually take place.”

Scripture itself is a natural place for Jews and Christians to practice encounter, both men said.

“Pope Francis stressed this point in [the apostolic exhortation on preaching the Gospel] Evangelii Gaudium,” said Skorka, who has been a visiting scholar at St. Joseph’s University.

Archbishop Perez said that in his prayer life he draws extensively from “the Psalms, the songs of the Chosen People.”

“There’s synergy there because we share Scripture,” he said.

In his native Argentina, Skorka worked with priests who helped to implement Vatican II reform, including the reforms called for by Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the Church’s relation to non-Christian religions. Skorka, a native of Buenos Aires, said that he and then-Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio — the future Pope Francis — carried out “continuous and very significant work.”

The two collaborated on a 31-episode television show as well as the book On Heaven and Earth, about interfaith dialogue. The image of priest and rabbi engaged in “mutually enriching conversation” provided a paradigm for interfaith dialogue, Skorka said. “What Pope Francis did as archbishop of Buenos Aires … (was) extraordinary (and demonstrated) a lot of courage. We reached levels of dialogue and encounter unique throughout the world.”

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