Catholic-Jewish dialogue group visits civil rights sites in Georgia and Alabama

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ATLANTA — Leaders of Catholic and Jewish communities have come together to fellowship and find ways to heal hatred of racism during a three-day trip to civil rights monuments.

From May 9-11, representatives of the National Council of Synagogues and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other leaders met to discuss the history and impact of racism in society, their respective religions and to find solutions to create a better world.


The trip began in Atlanta, with stops at Lyke House Catholic Center located at the Historicly Black College and Universities in Atlanta’s West End and at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site. It ended in Alabama, with tours of historic sites in Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery.

The co-chairs of the dialogue between the National Council of Synagogues and the USCCB are Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington and Rabbi David Straus, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues.

It was the cardinal’s first visit to Atlanta since his installation as archbishop of Washington in 2019. The following year, he was elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope Francis. He served as Archbishop of Atlanta from 2005 until Pope Francis named him head of the Archdiocese of Washington.

“It’s like coming home,” Gregory said upon returning.

According to its website, the National Council of Synagogues is a partnership of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements of Judaism dealing with interfaith affairs at the national level. The council believes that religions must dialogue with each other to build a better society and world.

One of the goals of this group and its three-day event is to create a high school curriculum for Catholic and Jewish schools to learn about each other’s religious traditions and explore issues of racism. in America.

Gregory has been active in Catholic-Jewish dialogue for many decades. He is a past chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs.

Her work includes celebrating the jubilee of the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s ‘Nostra Aetate’ in 2015 – the 1965 Statement on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions – and annual follow-up events that have encouraged discussion and brotherhood between Catholic and Jewish religious traditions.

“Nostra Aetate” is the document of the Second Vatican Council that transformed the Church’s approach to Judaism after centuries of troubled relations.

“We are so divided as a society — racially divided, religiously divided, politically divided, Gregory said. “We must take every opportunity that comes our way to work together as an example of how people should be neighbors, friends, brothers and sisters.”

Interfaith and interreligious dialogue is a passion for Straus, who served as executive director of the National Council of Synagogues for about eight years.

“When you seriously engage in this work, you not only learn about other believers, what they believe, and how they live their lives,” Straus said. “But it forces you to really look inside your own religious tradition. And I think that actually strengthens your faith and strengthens your commitment because you have to ask really important questions.

The meeting began at Lyke House, which hosts students from Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and Georgia State University. Council members were welcomed by student ambassadors from Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fayetteville, Georgia.

After lunch, members were able to tour the Lyke House Gallery, which honors the late Archbishop James P. Lyke of Atlanta and the history and contributions of Black Catholics.

“We are here at a facility that is dedicated to training and educating young people,” Gregory said. “Whenever our young people can move beyond religious, cultural and linguistic differences, it bodes very well for our future.”

The first day ended with a tour of Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Park, which included the King Center, the Crypt of Reverend King and Coretta Scott King, and the original and new Ebenezer Baptist churches.

After a day of meetings and reporting, the council began its journey to Alabama, where members visited 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

In Montgomery, the council visited the Rosa Parks Museum, the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice by Equal Justice Initiative.

To be able to spend three days together and share an incredibly powerful experience is an amazing opportunity, Straus said.

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Smith is an editor for the Georgia Bulletin, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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