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Nuremberg provides setting for inter-religious seminar

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, October 6, 2005

Members of the Notre Dame family recently traveled to Nuremberg, Germany to attend an international inter-religious seminar titled “Memory and Reconciliation: Building for the Future Jewish-Christian Relations in Cultural Context.” Over forty students and faculty from Germany and Poland gathered for the occasion.

The primary purpose of the trip was to introduce future teachers of theology to issues of Jewish-Christian dialogue as they present themselves in different cultures.

Notre Dame was represented by History graduate student Elizabeth Covington, theology graduate students Krista Duttenhaver, Andrew Gawrych, David Kneip, Scott Moringiello and Molly Zahn.

Rabbi Michael Signer, Betty Signer, coordinator of the ND Holocaust Project, and Nancy Cavadini, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend representative in charge of Jewish-Catholic relations, accompanied the students.

Students were chosen based on their openness to dialogue and cultural change as well as their future university teaching plans. The College of Arts and Letters and the Holocaust Project have supported similar international forums in the past including two at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer near Auschwitz concentration camp and in Krakow at the Papal Academy of Theology.

Signer, Notre Dame’s Abrams Professor of Jewish Thought and Culture said the trip allowed them a window into history.

“[Students used the] geographical place of Nuremberg to measure what was there, what was missing and how the post-World War II situation had changed or opened up the possibilities for dialogue and reconciliation among Jews, Christians, Americans, Germans and Poles,” Signer said.

While touring the grounds where the Nazi Party rallies were held, Father Andrew Gawrych said he was impacted by history.

“The evils committed by the Nazi Party had not taken place in some far off, distant universe, but in the very world in which I lived,” Gawrych said. “This feeling of physical closeness to those terrible evils immediately created in me a overwhelming sense of urgency to work to ensure such evils happen ‘never again.'”

Those in attendance emphasized the need for inter-religious dialogue.

“I believe it is not only important, but essential for members of the Notre Dame student body and faculty to be involved in inter-religious dialogue because it goes to the heart of our mission as a Catholic university,” Gawrych said. “Through dialogue with other religions, we stand not only to enrich our understanding of our own Catholic tradition, but also come to a deeper understanding of, and thus solidarity with, people of other faiths.”

Students may know Jews, Signer said, but most have never engaged in religious dialogue. Dialogue is not easy, he said, but despite its challenges, it is highly rewarding.

Studying and discussing inter-faith dialogue in an academic setting is not enough, however, Gawrych said.

For in the end, books do not build bridge; people do,” Gawrych said. “If we are to continue to build bridges that reach out from our own communities – whether those be communities of faith, of race or of nationality – to other people, the only way to do so is to bring real, living people together so that the can encounter and learn from one another.”