The Catholic Near East Welfare Association finds that in its work in the Near East, the Catholic community is invariably a small minority. For this reason, we are ever sensitive to the important role that interfaith dialogue plays in maintaining workable relationships with various groups. Catholic Near East has been and continues to be involved with Catholic Jewish interfaith dialogue in the United States as well as overseas. Other interfaith dialogues are on the agenda of Catholic Near East, such as dialogue with Islam and with the Orthodox Christians. The fabric of religion in the Near East is a highly varied pattern made up of many faith communities.
At the invitation of Catholic Near East, Rabbi Leon Klenicki recently visited with Brother David and Mr. Joseph Donnelly at our New York headquarters to share some reflections on the state of interfaith dialogue. Recently, Rabbi Klenicki had been appointed as the Bnai Brith liaison to the Vatican in April 1989 together with Rabbi David Rosen who is the director of the Jerusalem office of Interfaith Affairs for Bnai Brith.
Rabbi Klenicki is the director of the Interfaith Affairs Department of the Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith. In this post he will continue the Anti-Defamation Leagues efforts to further Catholic-Jewish understanding through the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and other offices of the Holy See. The ADL, as it is commonly known, was founded some 75 years ago to protect Jewish immigrants and their human rights from the prejudice to which minority groups can be subjected. As an outgrowth of this activity, the ADL became a leader in the struggle against racism and has assisted other minority communities in their struggle for their human and civil rights, eg., blacks and hispanics.
Our reflections focused on the issue of interfaith dialogue. People of good will recognize that each party enters such a dialogue with a sense of real pain, for in todays world, as in the, world of history, the reality of human prejudice leads and has led to many pain filled experiences for both Jew and Christian. For 75 years the Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith has attempted through educational programs to enlighten people to the dangers of prejudice, and the effects it has upon the oppressed and upon minorities.
To this task, Rabbi Klenicki brings a most unusual background. He was born in Argentina and there in his study of Spanish literature became acquainted with the works of Sts. Augustine, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. Written in 1964 for his degree in Philosophy at Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati, Ohio), his thesis was entitled, The Mystical Language of St. John of the Cross. He now serves on the faculty of Immaculate Conception Seminary, Seton Hall, N.J., where he teaches a course on the Rabbinic Theology and Religious Vocation of Jesus as well as Jewish Spirituality. Having worked with the Anti-Defamation League since 1973, Rabbi Klenicki sees this current time of interfaith dialogue as being at a moment of crisis a time between times an opportunity for mutual inner growth. The stage of tea and sympathy is passed and the second stage is evolving. This second stage is one of outreach to the larger human community to develop a respect for one anothers religious traditions.
Speaking of the complexity of the dialogue, he notes that in speaking with Christians he makes every effort to see them as subjects of faith and he hopes that they see him in a similar fashion. Citing a rabbinic text that later influenced Jesus, he noted, when two or three persons are together talking about God, the presence of God is among them. It is his contention that we share Gods Presence, in the Hebrew described as the Shekinah, and in sharing the Presence we share His companionship, literally we share God.
When asked about the problems facing the Catholic Jewish dialogue, the rabbi notes that centrality of the State of Israel for the Jew in the dialogue is not clearly understood. For many Jews, Israel is seen as part of Gods eternal design and even, if you would, an end to the denial of nearly 2000 years of the diaspora. Rabbi Klenicki noted his frustration with the lack of understanding of the critical issues confronting the State of Israel.
Reviewing his experience of interfaith dialogue, he notes with genuine sincerity that Cardinals OConnor, Law, and Bernardin, together with Bishop Jorge Mejia have been most open and collaborative. Special praise was also given to Archbishop William Keeler, moderator of the Catholic Jewish relations sub-committee of the National Conference of Catholic bishops.
As we reflected together on the ups and downs of the very delicate effort at dialogue, Rabbi Klenicki returned to the themes of Gods Presence as he noted that it was his belief that this work was for him Gods call. He noted that this was the most important thing I have comprehended in all of these years of dialogue with Christianity.
Part of the dialogue and educational activity of Rabbi Klenicki has focused on wide ranging publications of articles and curriculum guides. In collaboration with Dr. Eugene Fisher of the United States Catholic Conference, The Promised Land, The Death of Jesus, and Forgiveness are being prepared for publication. It is interesting to note that shortly after our reflections together, Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, President of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, when speaking with Jewish leaders in Sao Paulo, Brazil, supported the perspective of education as evidenced by Rabbi Klenicki. Cardinal Willebrands noted, it [education] is necessary to achieve a level of Catholic-Jewish relations marked not only by mutual confidence but even fraternity. This means Vatican II must be turned not only into new theological teaching, but, more important, into the daily lives of the faithful.
In one of its very early instructions on interfaith dialogue, a Vatican directive noted that there are four levels to true and meaningful dialogue:
- We must first dialogue on the level of HEART wherein we engage one another as partners, sharing as brothers and sisters in the creation of God.
- Our dialogue must be one of DAILY LIFE wherein together we promote human values which we share with God as our guarantor.
- In the dialogue of SPEECH, we must speak of God and humanity, setting aside our distractions with things of power, wealth and all that is not essential to God and humankind.
- Finally, and of greatest importance is the dialogue of SILENCE, so that God might speak with us and to us; that He might speak to the heart of each person directly so that we may act and speak as His true servants.
It was in this spirit that we reflected with Rabbi Leon Klenicki both to share our concerns and understanding of where we find ourselves in history at this moment. How best might we together reach beyond the difficulties and tragedies of history to serve as a bridge of peace? How may we best share Heart, Daily Life, Speech, and Silence as Gods creatures to establish and maintain a meaningful relationship with God?
Unfortunately, in our societies today, we still have groups of people who suffer from prejudice. Hence, the work of dialogue, and most especially interfaith dialogue is essential. If we are to gain understanding of ourselves as creatures of God, we have to find that within our diversity of traditions we are united as children of God.
To attain this unity through diversity, we must be willing to open ourselves in faith to one another. Therefore, we must educate one another to see that a difference of traditions is not an evil to be corrected, but rather a manifestation of the diversity of Gods children.
It is in this difficult and delicate task that Rabbi Leon Klenickis labors on behalf of all peoples to see that prejudice is properly identified and through prayerful reconciliation, abolished.
As a man of faith, Rabbi Klenicki labors to share with the Christian Community the heart, daily life and speech of his Jewish confreres while we seek to hear in silence the goodness of God whose creatures we are.
Brother David is special assistant to the Secretary General of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.