Catholic and Jewish Leaders Meet

NEW YORK (CNS) — Catholic and Jewish leaders face challenges in finding ways to keep young adults engaged in the faith practices they were born into, participants heard at a recent Catholic-Jewish consultation.

Some of the discussions at the May 12 semiannual meeting in New York of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Synagogues were devoted to findings of the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey produced by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and their implications for the Catholic and Jewish faiths.

Participants in the consultation also discussed recent developments in Israel and the Palestinian territories and expressed grave concern about the Iranian government’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

In an overview of the Pew survey from the Catholic perspective, sociologist Mark Gray of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University said, “We are living in an age of spiritual ‘individualization,’ having moved from a sense of religious duty to religious feeling.”

Gray also said the present moment is characterized by a “blurring of religious boundaries and of large defections from one religion to another.”

Steven Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Institute of Religion, said younger Jews, as with younger Catholics, are more likely to adopt a form of spiritual practice that differs from the religious identity given to them at birth.

The choice of a religious home typically follows a period of “seeking” in one’s early 20s, Cohen said, characterizing the overall trend in America’s religious landscape as “movement from faith to choice.”

Gray and Cohen both said young people tend to see institutionalized religion as “alien, bland, coercive and divisive.”

They said worship services and study groups outside the parish and synagogue setting are more likely to engage the younger generation. Gray cited in particular the “Theology on Tap” lectures and discussion meetings that usually take place in a restaurant or bar.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the Catholic co-chairman of the consultation, said rabbis and pastors have a shared pastoral dilemma when reaching out to young adults.

“It’s good to realize that Catholic and Jewish pastors face the same problems today: the integrity of marriage and family life, and the retention of young people in their congregations,” he said. “The Pew study has given us a sobering reminder of how American culture challenges both our communities to find new means of outreach to our people.”

Rabbi Gilbert S. Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues, underscored the need to develop creative programs that correspond to the young adults’ distinctive styles of spiritual learning.

“If we fail to attract them to religious life and involvement, we imperil our future as meaningful religious communities,” he said.

Discussing developments in the Middle East, the consultation heard a report from Stephen Colecchi, director of the USCCB Office of International Justice and Peace.

Colecchi reiterated the positions of the U.S. bishops, who seek an end to violence from all sides, the creation of a viable Palestinian state, secure borders for the state of Israel, the end of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories and a fair sharing of water resources in the region.

He also said completion of the economic portion of the treaty between the Vatican and Israel, as well as resolution of the issue of visas for church workers, would help ease tensions for all parties involved.

The Jewish co-chairman of the consultation is Rabbi Alvin Berkun, chairman of the National Council of Synagogues. The council is made up of representatives from the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Among the other participants in the May 12 meeting were Cardinal William H. Keeler, retired archbishop of Baltimore; Rabbi Richard Marker, chairman of the International Committee for Jewish-Christian Consultation; Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; and Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

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