For the first time in history, Vatican cardinals met for official talks with German rabbis. Representatives of both religious communities described the meeting as "historic."
Christians and Jews have a common heritage, but also a troubled history
Leading Vatican and German cardinals met in Berlin on Thursday for official talks with the Jewish rabbis of Germany.
Cardinal Walter Kasper
The head of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and the president of the Rabbinical Committee of Germany, Henry G. Brandt, described the meeting as "historic."
Kasper highlighted the importance of dialogue despite the difficulties which have plagued the relations between Jews and Christians in the past.
"Anti-Semitism is an offense to human dignity and an offense to God," Kasper said. "The Jewish-Christian dialogue will remain a difficult dialogue. But differences should not serve as an excuse for hostility," he said.
A new epoch
Catholic contacts with German Jews were previously conducted mainly through the Central Council of Jews in Germany -- a lay organization whose goal is to foster local Jewish communities as well as promote understanding between Jews and gentiles -- but German-born Pope Benedict XVI indicated a symbolically significant policy shift for the Vatican when he visited and prayed at a Cologne synagogue in August last year.
Pope Benedict XVI visited the Cologne synague last year
Despite a long history of violence which characterized the Judeo-Christian relations in the past, Brandt said "it was time to build a bridge."
"German rabbis are finally seen as present and competent," he said.
Cardinal Lehmann, president of the German Bishops Conference, stressed that the cardinals intended to deepen their relationship with both the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the rabbis.
The meeting was a highlight of the Berlin "Week of Brotherhood" -- the annual interfaith festival organized by the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation.