A new coalition of influential Catholic leaders is promising to combat antisemitism and to promote friendship with the American Jewish community amid the devastation of the Israel-Hamas war.
“Solidarity with the Jewish people isn’t only the right thing to do. It’s the right pro-life thing to do,” Mary Eberstadt, the Panula Chair in Christian Culture at the Catholic Information Center and senior research fellow at the Faith & Reason Institute, told Our Sunday Visitor of the Coalition of Catholics Against Antisemitism (CCAAS).
“In a moment when many believers are demoralized and wondering what the Faith means now, the Coalition of Catholics Against Antisemitism affirms a powerful answer,” she added. “Like Jews, Catholics love life. And we stand for life from conception to natural death — including, and emphatically, the lives of our elder brothers and sisters in faith.”
The coalition and its statement of solidarity and action were announced during a conference sponsored by The Philos Project, an organization that seeks to promote positive Christian engagement in the Near East, and Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, held Oct. 24-26.
The conference, “Nostra Aetate and the Future of Catholic-Jewish Relations at a Time of Rising Antisemitism,” marked the anniversary of the Church’s release of Nostra Aetate, a transformative document in Catholic-Jewish relations, in 1965, and the anniversary of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2018.
“Our subject, antisemitism, already needed addressing when this gathering was first envisioned months ago,” Eberstadt told attendees in Steubenville for the coalition launch. “But then, on Oct. 7, the terrorist organization Hamas decided to follow the Nazi playbook once more. As one observer of World War II put it, the Nazis ‘ripped the lid off hell.’ That’s what Hamas did.”
Today, she said at the conference, “we are here to forge, and render visible, a new alliance between Jews and Catholics, the like of which has not existed before.”
The coalition statement
More than 100 Catholics, including scholars, government officials, nonprofit leaders, writers, and pro-life leaders, have already signed the coalition statement issued by The Philos Project that condemns antisemitism and calls on Catholics to stand with their Jewish brothers and sisters.
“We, the Coalition of Catholics against Antisemitism, hereby commit ourselves to combating resurgent hatred of the Jewish people today — in our country and around the world,” the declaration begins. “We condemn antisemitism in humility, mindful of the sins of Catholics and other Christians against the Jewish people throughout history, and aware that these wounds remain real for many Jews today.”
The statement goes on to quote Pope Pius XI, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, who condemned antisemitism, and shares its position on Israel and Palestine.
“We affirm the right of the Jewish people to live safely and securely in their ancestral homeland, and recognize that modern Israel is essential to that security,” it reads. “These rights should not jeopardize the right of Palestinians to also live in safety and security.”
The statement concludes by calling on Catholics of all walks of life to take action. Among other things, the coalition urges Catholic parents and educators to teach the history of Catholic and Christian-Jewish relations, encourages Catholic scholars to confront antisemitism while developing Catholic-Jewish studies programs and deepening relationships with Jewish scholars, and calls on Catholic statesmen to protect the Jewish community.
The statement concludes with a message for all Catholics.
“We encourage Catholic bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful to pray and sacrifice for conversion from the sin of antisemitism, and encourage their congregations to do the same,” it reads, “and we urge those who have fallen into this sin to return to an authentic Christianity that understands that Jews are our spiritual brothers and sisters.”
A fight against antisemitism
The conference comes as studies and surveys find a rise in antisemitism. Most recently, The Philos Project cited a report by the Antisemitism Cyber Monitoring System at the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism in Israel. The report found that social media platforms witnessed a 1,200% rise in posts advocating violence against Israel, Zionists and Jews during Oct. 7-10.
The Philos Project also noted, ahead of the conference, a 2023 survey by Jewish on Campus finding that nearly one in three Jewish college students has witnessed or experienced antisemitism on campus and an Anti-Defamation League audit finding that U.S. antisemitic incidents hit the highest level ever recorded for the year 2022.
At the opening of the conference, Andrew Doran, director of Philos Catholic, which seeks to build bridges between the Eastern and Western Catholic Church and positively reengage with the Near East, addressed the roots of antisemitism.
“Antisemitism isn’t ultimately about class or race or political ideology or the false idols of conspiracy theories,” he said. “Antisemitism is, at its core, a spiritual evil.”
Father Malachi Van Tassell, TOR, president of St. Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania, called the coalition statement “a roadmap for Catholics to combat antisemitism and really to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jewish people in the days and years ahead.”
“The Jewish people, as John Paul II said, are our spiritual elder brothers and sisters,” he said at the conference. “Our Messiah and apostles came through the Jewish people and we as Catholics and Christians will not be silent amidst the antisemitism in our society.”
For her part, Eberstadt called the conference and the movement it inaugurates “a call to justice for and among Catholics.”
“We want Jews inside and outside the United States to know that Catholics are stepping up to stand with them, to spurn moral equivalence, and to be that refuge when it is needed,” she said during her speech.
“Fellow Catholics, especially students,” she directed, “go show the world what being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers really means.”