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Richard Marker : Welcoming speech

Collège des Bernardins, 27th February 2011

Eminences, Excellencies, Rabbinic colleagues, Honored hosts, honorable guests and friends.

I too wish to welcome you and to express a special note of appreciation to the College des Bernhardins whose hospitality has exceeded all expectations.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to be with you this evening as we inaugurate the 21st biennial meeting of the international liaison committee meetings between the Vatican and the world Jewish our inaugural gatherings in 1971.

1971 was also an important milestone year in my own career - the year of my ordination as a rabbi.

Now, in fairness, to quote a great American president, the world will little note nor long remember that occasion in my personal life. But it will never forget the important role of my teacher during the 1960s, the revered Abraham Joshua Heschel. As his student during a time of great change and upheaval, one could hardly be unaware of his role in the formulation of Nostra Aetate, the document which marked the transformation of the relationship between our 2 religions, Judaism and Roman Catholicism ; after 1900 years.

40 years in the history of a people, in the histories of 2 great world religions is but the blink of qn eye. Reflecting on these years allows us to be proud of our achievements during these years, but ever humble in believing that we can fully know all the challenges which are before us.

But if forty years of history is but a moment, forty years of a relationship is a sign of its maturity. We have know well - perhaps too well – our mutual cares and concerns, our respective fears and foibles, that which is symbol and that which is essential, that which disappoints and that which reassures.

Our meetings this week will deal with much, if not all of the unfinished business of our forty year relationship, as well it must. Two different religions never can and never should see eye to eye on all matters, and continuing to fine tune our mutual understandings is what we must always be about. Our discourse this week will give ample evidence to the authenticity of this effort. We invite all of you to pay close attention not only to our AGENDA but also to how we MODEL how to talk with one another.

BUT – after forty years, that is not enough ! The world which fostered our rapprochement is not the world of today, of this century. The agenda which must define our next forty years must transcend, though never ignore, the parameters of our first forty years. The focus of the world is no longer of Jewish Christian amity. We must, for so many reasons, involve the third of our Abrahamic siblings. We only pray that OUR rapprochement will be a model for a transformed relationship with Islam.

And, increasingly this new century necessitates our engagement with the Eastern Traditions whose very assumptions of the deity and the cosmos differ radically from ours.

We must model forms of GLOBALISM which affirm humanity and sacred values.

And we must speak to an interconnected world which does not yet have a reliable ethic or common ethos.

It is my hope, then that this noble and worthy anniversary marks the celebration of our mutual trust and engagement, but also marks the expansion of our mutual commitment to speak, ever cogently and with careful wisdom, to a world so very much in need.

It is with deep humility that I stand before you as chair of IJCIC, the loving partner of our counterparts in the Roman Catholic world, and with great confidence that our forty year anniversary will prove to be but q single stride in a journey of many decades and centuries. Thank you all for being with us as we take the next small steps, arm in arm, as we continue our sacred walk through history.

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