Holocaust menorah dedicated at St. Paul Seminary

Friday, May 30, 2003 - Updated: 12:01 am
Chuck Moody, Staff Writer
The dedication at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton of a
menorah in remembrance of the Holocaust marks a
new era of reconciliation and cooperation by Catholic
and Jewish leaders, officials of both faiths said.

The Holocaust menorah, located near the auditorium
on the seminary grounds, was dedicated May 21.

?We are highlighting the area of interfaith relations and
their importance for each of individually and all of us
collectively,? said Bishop Donald Wuerl.

Bishop Wuerl, Father James Wehner, rector of the
seminary; Rabbi Alvin Berkun of Tree of Life
Congregation in Pittsburgh?s Squirrel Hill
neighborhood; Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the
Center for Interreligious Understanding in Secaucus,
N.J.; and Holocaust survivor Stephen Ollendorff joined
Pittsburgh area Holocaust survivors and community
leaders to share words of remembrance and light the
six candles of the Yom Hashoah (Holocaust
remembrance) menorah.

The menorah?s six candles represent the 6 million
Jews as well as the 6 million non-Jews killed during
the Holocaust.

The menorah is a replica of the one presented to Pope
John Paul II in 1999 that is on permanent display at the
North American College in Rome. The pope has been
recognized by Jewish leaders for his efforts to
remember the Holocaust and better relations between
Catholics and Jews.

The pope?s efforts include establishing full diplomatic
relations with Israel, issuing his ?We Remember?
document on the Holocaust and asking forgiveness of
the Jews during his pilgrimage to Israel in March 2000.

?For reasons that motivated the Holy See to suggest the
North American College as the appropriate location for
the menorah, so we, too, have concluded that St. Paul
Seminary is the most appropriate setting for the
Pittsburgh diocesan holocaust memorial,? Bishop
Wuerl said.

The concept of the Holocaust menorah evolved a
number of years ago, Rabbi Berkun said.
?At the time, Cardinal (William) Keeler of Baltimore was
the chair of the North American Pontifical College,?
Rabbi Berkun said. ?The idea was to have a physical
memorial, a physical manifestation, that would
memorialize the Holocaust on Vatican state property.

?It was felt that the college was the best place. Because
when a seminarian walks by a six-branch menorah that
basically commemorates the terrible destruction in
Europe of the Jewish community, it kind of jars that
individual even on a subconscious level to think about
the implications, the moral implications, of that event.

?Clearly, the climate in Europe for which the church
bears some responsibility of anti-Semitism over many
hundreds of years in effect created a climate that made
it possible for the Holocaust to happen. Therefore, from
a moral perspective, it?s critical that leadership of
religious institutions, such as future priests, would sort
of be made to confront that reality.?

Pope John Paul II literally grew up in Poland, and
therefore knew many people who suffered in the
Holocaust, Rabbi Berkun said.

?He was moved personally to address the issue of the
church?s feelings regarding the Holocaust,? he said.
?So it was appropriate to have such a dedication.?

Rabbi Berkun was asked by his national body of rabbis,
the Rabbinical Assembly, on behalf of the conservative
movement of Judaism, to represent it regarding a
dedication of the menorah at the Vatican.

?But at that time it turns out that Cardinal Keeler was no
longer the chairman of the board,? he recalled. ?Instead,
it was our own bishop, Donald Wuerl, who chaired the
board. We had a conversation about it. Even though it
was difficult for me to go, I was able to go and the two of
us took part in this dedication ceremony.

?The menorah itself stands some 7 feet high, including
the base. It?s a very powerful image in terms of
remembering the Holocaust. The next day after the
dedication, we presented about a 12-inch or 18-inch
high replica to the Holy Father at the Vatican.?

A 4-foot replica of the menorah at the Vatican now
stands at St. Paul Seminary. It was created by Israeli
sculptor Aharon Bezalel, and it was made possible by
Stephen and Bjorg Ollendorff.

?Again the same logic, that we want to invite
seminarians who will see it on a regular basis to
wrestle internally with some of the issues of
Catholic-Jewish relations,? Rabbi Berkun said. ?The
truth is that the last generation has made more strides
regarding this event or this experience than the last
2,000 years of church history.

?It?s all to do with Pope John XXII, who kind of opened
this window.?

The Center for Interreligious Understanding and the
Interreligious Information Center are placing Yom
Hashoah menorahs in Catholic centers throughout the
United States to highlight the extraordinary changes
that have taken place in the relationship between
Catholics and Jews since the Second Vatican Council
in 1965 and as a result of the leadership of Pope John
Paul II.

Bishop Wuerl and Rabbi Berkun are longtime friends
from their membership in the Religious Leadership
Forum of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

As an example of Catholic-Jewish relations on a local
basis, Rabbi Berkun teaches Judaism to students at
Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh?s Oakland

?That?s happened only in the last two years, and that?s
happened thanks to the openness of Bishop Wuerl to
say, ?Times are a-changing,?? he said. ?There?s a rabbi
who?s in every diocesan high school, and we invited
Catholic clergy to come to our religious schools to
teach about Christian-Jewish relations. So it is truly a
new era.

?And I would suggest that the putting up of this
Holocaust menorah on diocese property ? and
especially at a seminary ? is very indicative of the
enormous strides that have been made in this last
generation. Certainly, compared to the history, which is
not a very proud history, I?m sad to say.?

Bishop Wuerl concluded his reflections by
remembering walking across St. Peter?s Square with
Rabbi Berkun in 1999 on the way to dinner.

?Both come out of different traditions and both are
deeply caught up in the issues of today, including
everything we have spoken about tonight,? the bishop
said. ?Earlier in the day, they had been to visit with the

?As religious leaders and friends, they were now going
to break bread together. The image speaks to me of
small steps among individuals who have come to know
each other, respect each other and work with each
other for a much better world. But it all depends on
individuals taking small steps together.

?Rabbi Berkun and I made our way across the square
talking, sharing, reflecting ? and we had a delightful
evening breaking bread together with his family at a
small trattoria off of St. Peter?s Square. Small steps ?
individuals ? but with a great hope for the future and a
far better world.

?Let us recommit ourselves to the vision, to the work, to
the challenge and to the bonds of mutual respect.?

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