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The Catholic Church should categorically reject any attempts to convert Jews, the American Jewish Committee's Rabbi David Rosen said Thursday.
"Even though the Nostra Aetate says that no attempts should be made to convert Jews, many Catholics continue to express a hope for conversion," he told The Jerusalem Post from Rome during the Vatican's 40th anniversary celebration of the Nostra Aetate document, which revolutionized the Catholic Church's relations with Jews.
Rosen, the AJC's international director of interreligious affairs, has been involved in Vatican-Israeli negotiations for more than a decade.
He and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a retired Paris Archbishop and Jewish convert, were to be the keynote speakers Thursday evening.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with Jewry, is hosting the event.
The Nostra Aetate was one of the key documents to emerge from the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council meeting of Catholics and clergy that modernized the Catholic Church.
In it, the Vatican deplored anti-Semitism in every form and repudiated the deicide charge that blamed the Jews for Christ's death.
Rosen, commenting on the issue of Catholic proselytizing, said many
prominent Church theologians such as Kasper consider any attempts to convert Jews, even unobtrusive invitations, inappropriate and unnecessary.
"But some theologians, like Cardinal [Avery] Dulles interpret the Nostra Aetate differently," he said. "Although they eschew proselytizing, they hold that an open invitation to convert is permitted."
Rosen said differences of opinion on conversion of Jews might stem from varying theological positions on redemption for Jews.
Catholic theologians who hope for the conversion of Jews believe that although Jews are not condemned by God, they are not in His favor.
Therefore, it is legitimate to hope for Jews conversion to Catholicism.
Those who reject conversion as inappropriate and unnecessary would be more likely to accept the idea that Jews are eligible for spiritual redemption in the world to come, he said.
Notwithstanding his criticism on the issue of conversions, Rosen called the Nostra Aetate a "mind-boggling revolution in the Catholic Church's theology."
"This might sound like a hyperbole, but there is nothing quite comparable in the history of humankind," he said. "Imagine a billion followers who had been taught contempt for the Jews and Judaism, who had been inculcated with the idea that the Jew was in league with the devil, suddenly being taught that the Jews are the people of the covenant. Or as Pope John Paul II put it, the Jews are 'our dearly beloved older brother.'"
Rosen said the Nostra Aetate also opened the way for diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Vatican by recognizing the land of Israel as the ancestral home of the Jewish people.
"Thanksgiving to God is appropriate for the incredible turnaround in Church thought," he said.
Several ceremonies are scheduled for next week in Israel. The Center for the Study of Christianity at Hebrew University will sponsor a three-day conference on various aspects of the document. Rabbi Shear Yishuv Hacohen, president of the Bilateral Commission for Dialogue between the Vatican and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, will speak at the AJC's headquarters in Jerusalem and there will be a special ceremony at Beit Hanassi.
Rosen will be honored with the Mount Zion Award 2005 on the occasion of the Nostra Aetate anniversary for his contribution to reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. The award will be presented by Kasper.
AP contributed to this report.