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European Interfaith Meeting Aims to Dissolve Mistrust - 2002-01-29

In an unprecedented European-wide dialogue between the religions, Jewish and Catholic leaders ended a two-day conference in Paris Tuesday. The meeting was aimed at airing differences created by generations of mistrust and lingering memories of the Holocaust.

In a closing statement Tuesday evening, Jewish and Catholic leaders denounced racism, anti-Semitism and terrorism carried out in the name of God, and appealed for peace among peoples of different religions. The joint call closed the first-ever European wide meeting between Jews and Catholics. Hosted by the European Jewish Congress, the meeting gathered some of the most prominent representatives of both religions at a center off the elegant boulevard, the Champs Elysees.

From Rome, Pope John Paul II sent a message of support, urging Jewish and Catholic youths to work jointly to promote peace. And members of the Jewish community praised the Pope for recognizing two singular events that shaped the Jewish congregation: the Holocaust and the founding of Israel.

But in an interview with VOA, Archbishop Christoph Schonborn of Vienna said the meeting also launched another important dialogue - how to build a more spiritual Europe as the continent grows closer economically and politically.

"The question of a soul for Europe - that is often been said by politicians," he said. "Europe needs a soul. What is the soul of Europe? We cannot and we should not forget the spiritual and religious [side] of Europe."

Members of both faiths anknowledged that disagreements remain. Jewish critics still maintain that the World War II-era pope, Pope Pius XII, should have been more active in preventing the Holocaust. Others, like French Jew Yossi Malka, want Catholics to be more forceful in denouncing what they say is growing anti-Semitism in France.

Mr. Malka said the problem with the conference was that it brought together only the leaders of the two communities, who essentially agreed on many issues. The next time, Mr. Malka said, more ordinary Jews and Catholics should be allowed to participate.

And as far as leaders of both faiths are concerned, there will be a next time. The first interfaith European meeting, they said, would not be the last.