All photos courtesy of Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic. Used with permission.
On Monday, January 29, 2018, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago and Chancellor of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, delivered a major address to the Jewish community on the Catholic Church’s understanding of evangelization and how this relates to our commitment to religious freedom and interreligious dialogue. The topic drew great interest in light of the rise of anti-Semitism both in Europe and the United States of America. The Jewish community is concerned about how Judaism in understood by Christians and how Jews are portrayed by Christian religious leaders.
The Archbishop of Chicago, from the pulpit of one of the largest synagogues in Chicagoland, gave a nuanced description of evangelization, distinguishing it from proselytism. He defined “proselytism” as any method of outreach which involves coercion or deception. He further defined deception as including “comparing the best in one’s own religion to the worst in the other.” Evangelism, on the other hand, is witness to our relationship to Jesus and his Gospel. Specifically, regarding the Catholic-Jewish relationship, he noted [We have a responsibility] “to ensure that our statements and actions always enhance the relationships we have already built together and not become new obstacles to understanding and fraternity.”
In his exposition on evangelization Cardinal Cupich noted that “The vision of Pope Francis for the Universal Church and my vision for the Archdiocese of Chicago, flow from this simple insight—the ever present need to renew our spiritual lives by returning to the radical call of Jesus. . . . At its heart, Renew My Church seeks spiritual renewal that reinvigorates our call to discipleship, builds up our communities and inspires witness through service to the world. As Pope Francis puts it, all of this positions the Church to become a field hospital, reaching out to those in need rather than waiting until they come to us.”
Finding common ground in Christianity’s origin in Judaism, the Cardinal noted that “In the New Testament, Jesus is often presented as a rabbinic teacher, who the disciples encounter as they gather around him. This encounter with Jesus the teacher . . . calls the disciple into a new way of living that is characterized by three things . . . leaving their previous life behind and [following] him . . . [learning] from him by word and example. . . [and] as a community around Jesus [sharing] his life, this good news, this Gospel, with others by witnessing to all that this Gospel-centered life offers them . . . living a life of service, a member of that field hospital in the world.”
Cardinal Cupich, quoting Pope Francis who had only that morning met with Jewish leaders in Rome to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, spoke of how remembrance must lead to a change in consciousness. He spoke of how in Germany, after the Shoah, leaders realized that a change in consciousness was needed to realize the prayer Never Again. It was a difficult process and took several decades to mature, but eventually, the Germans succeeded in shifting the national consciousness. The Cardinal then noted that we Americans have never done the same with our national history of slavery. We have changed the laws, but not done the deeper work of changing our consciousness. Yet we must attend to this unfinished business.
Cardinal Cupich was accompanied at North Shore Congregation Israel by the Vice Rector for Academic Affairs, Fr. Thomas A. Baima, who is also Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs along with the staff of the Archdiocesan Office, Dr. Daniel Olsen, director, Susan Pudelek, coordinator for interreligious relations, and Dr. Jon Nilson, theological consultant. Dr. Olsen also serves on the adjunct faculty of USML as lecturer in the Institute for Diaconal Studies.