This past summer the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue was happy to support and be a partner for the Emerging Leadership Conference entitled “Leading in Challenging Times” which gathered more than 40 Catholic and Jewish young adults who spent four days together in Oxford, UK, June 25-29.

This biennial conference is one of the expressions of the collaboration carried out by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), which brings together various organizations from the international Jewish world. Senior Program Manager Elena Dini worked with the two main organizers and supported the initiative representing the JPII Center. Among the young leaders, a good group from our JPII Leaders Network, from the US, Ukraine, Philippines, who contributed to the discussions thanks to their training, knowledge and field experience in Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

Many activities involved the participants in a dynamic that alternated between moments dedicated to getting to know each other, meetings with prominent guests and reflection on the past, present and future of Jewish-Catholic relations starting with the local example offered by England. 

Leading the conference was Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, vice-president of the IJCIC, together with her Catholic counterpart, Father Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the Commission hosted within the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Also present was the then president of the IJCIC, Rabbi David Sandmel. In addition, the conference was supported by the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue and the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue.

“Jewish-Catholic relations have flourished since Nostra Aetate. It is a joy to see leaders of depth from the new generation preparing to take this important work forward, and we are grateful to our colleagues at the Vatican and the John Paul II Center for being our partners in this holy work,” commented Rabbi Boyd Gelfand.

Reflecting on the richness of difference of the assembled participants, JPII Leader Father Ryan Muldoon, newly appointed director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue for the Archdiocese of New York, recounts, “During informal moments, such as meals and free time, there was deep sharing among the participants about our faith traditions, religious practices, hopes and fears.  I was particularly inspired by meeting with Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who candidly shared their successes and struggles as faith leaders in a pluralistic and increasingly secular world.”

“Real people with real relationships lead to greater understanding and less conflict. This aspect,” comments Rabbi Roy Feldman of Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, delegate of the Rabbinical Council of America, “was highlighted when we listened to a rabbi and a priest from the Ukrainian church who have worked together to help thousands of displaced people from Ukraine, only being able to do so in such an effective way because of the relationship that already existed between them.”

With a grant from the JPII Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Vladimer Narsia, JPII Center Leader from Cohort XIV, hopes to bring attention to the long history of Jewish-Christian relations in Georgia. The mission of this project is “to promote the richness of Jewish-Christian relations from its outset up to the present time and magnify the role of Jewish people in the history of Christianity.” 

Vladimer Narsia (Georgia), JPII Leader (Cohort XIV)

Specifically, Vladimer’s project focuses on the revered St. Sidonia, a first-century Jewish woman consecrated as a saint in the Georgian Orthodox Church. “Sidonia was a Jew, but the Georgian Orthodox Church consecrated her as a Saint,” explains Vladimer. “So, Sidonia is a Christian, in terms of her religion, but ethnically a Jew.” 

The Georgian Chronicles, also known as The Georgian Royal Annals, state that St. Sidonia was a founder of Swetickhoveli, one of Georgia’s most ancient churches. Vladimer says that this cathedral is one of “the most venerated and holy places in Georgia” because it is recognized by the Georgian Chronicles as “the burial site of Christ’s robe.” 

Vladimer began the implementation of this project at the beginning of October and shares that it is going well. The first of Vladimer’s public lectures around St. Sidonia and the ancient roots of Jewish-Christian relations in Georgia was given to a group of students this fall. Having graduated this spring with a Diploma in Interreligious Dialogue from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy, where Vladimer was a Russell Berrie Fellow, this lecture also addressed contemporary interreligious dialogue issues within the context of Georgia and beyond.

Vladimer at the Museum of the History of the Georgian Jews in Tbilisi

Vladimer will also collaborate with the Museum of the History of the Georgian Jews, based in Tbilisi. At the conclusion of this project in the spring of next year, he will offer a presentation on Jewish-Christian relations in Georgia and share his project on St. Sidonia. By this point, Vladimer also aims to create a bilingual brochure, in Georgian and English, and create an animated movie clip to further present this important history to the world.

This project was made possible through the support of a JPII Leaders Grant offered by the JPII Center for Interreligious Dialogue.