WASHINGTON (October 2, 1998)--In an advisory to the Catholic Bishops on the upcoming canonization of Edith Stein (Blessed Benedicta of the Cross), Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore said the canonization can be the catalyst for a significant historical and theological dialogue between Christians and Jews.
Edith Stein was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1891. A writer and teacher, she became an atheist, converted to Catholicism, and eventually entered the Carmelite religious order. She was executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942. Pope John Paul II is scheduled to canonize Blessed Benedicta at the Vatican on October 11.
Cardinal Keeler is Episcopal Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). He was Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA), which issued an advisory concerning appropriate understandings for Catholic veneration of Sister Benedicta of the Cross, in 1987, the year in which she was beatified.
The NCCB General Secretariat sent the "Advisory on the Implications for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the Canonization of Edith Stein" to all Catholic Bishops in the United States on October 2.
Cardinal Keeler said the present statement renews the earlier advisory and updates it based on insights gained through Catholic-Jewish dialogue in the intervening decade.
He said the 1987 advisory sought to address two underlying Jewish concerns. The first concern was that the raising up of a convert of Jewish background for Catholic veneration might occasion the deveopment of organized movements within the Church to proselytize and convert other Jews.
But Cardinal Keeler said there has been no hint of an organized conversionary effort using Edith Stein's name being developed among Catholics.
"Her intellectual and spiritual journey, from which Catholics have so much to learn, is presented as her own, a model for Catholics, not a model for Jews," Cardinal Keeler said. "Meditation on and emulation of Blessed Benedicta of the Cross will deepen the faith of Catholics and, properly understood, should lead Catholics to a deeper appreciation of the spiritual richness and integrity of Judaism, the faith to which God has called the Jewish people," he stated.
The second major Jewish concern addressed in the 1987 advisory was that raising up the figure of a Jewish convert as symbolic of the millions of victims of the Shoah might lead to an "appropriation" by the Church of the Holocaust itself by making it seem that the Church, not the Jewish people, was the primary victim of Nazi genocide. In response, Cardinal Keeler cited and reinforced the earlier statement by the BCEIA:
"We see the beatification of Edith Stein as a unique occasion for joint Catholic-Jewish reflection and reconciliation. In honoring Edith Stein, the Church wishes to honor all the millions of Jewish victims of the Shoah. Christian veneration of Edith Stein does not lessen but rather strengthens our need to preserve and honor the memory of the Jewish victims. Catholic veneration of Edith Stein will necessarily contribute to a continuing and deepened examination of conscience regarding sins of commission and omission perpetrated by Christians against Jews during the dark years of World War II, as well as reflections on those Christians who risked their very lives to save their Jewish brothers and sisters."
In this same context, Cardinal Keeler also cited numerous statements of the Holy Father calling the Church to repentance for the Shoah, a series of statements by Bishops' Conferences both in Europe and the United States, and especially the statement last March of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember.