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Friendship between Bishop Lynch and Rabbi Luski mirrors improved Catholic-Jewish relations

The dedication of the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle on September 12, 2013, of Bishop Robert Lynch, Rabbi Jacob Luski and his wife, Joanne Luski. [Dana Rozance | Vidaroza Photography]
Published Oct. 16, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG

Rabbi Jacob Luski and Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch were having brunch earlier this year when the Jewish leader had an idea.

The 50th anniversary of a historic turning point in Catholic-Jewish relations was coming up, so why not commemorate the occasion at his synagogue, Luski said.

Lynch told his friend he'd do it on one condition. They must also hold a session at his cathedral.

So, on Oct. 21, the bishop will speak at Congregation B'nai Israel of St. Petersburg. A week later, the rabbi will reciprocate at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, a mere half-mile away.

The St. Jude's program will coincide with the anniversary of 1965's "The Declaration on the Relation of the Catholic Church with Non-Christian Religions." Nostra Aetate, as it is known, set the groundwork to break down centuries of barriers between Catholics and Jews.

"It opened up and made clear that salvation was available for all of us, including our Jewish brothers," Lynch said. "For the first time, our church acknowledged that we've not been right. We've been wrong."

"Coming after 2,000 years of saying things that divided us, holding the Jews accountable for the death of Christ, the Vatican Council document was a revolutionary change for the Catholic Church, which the Jewish community and many others around the world have received with open arms," Luski said.

Lynch — head of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties — and Luski have been friends for almost 20 years. Luski was the only rabbi present when he was ordained bishop on Jan. 26, 1996.

"I love him dearly," Lynch said.

More recently, Luski and his wife, Joanne, were guests when St. Jude's was rededicated after a $9 million makeover. The couple had a front-row seat.

"We enjoy getting together and we compare notes on institutional life," Luski said. "We continue to learn from one another. We continue to better understand each other. That didn't happen before 50 years ago."

St. Petersburg resident James Barrens and former executive director of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at Saint Leo University, has written a book about the momentous document adopted by the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 28, 1965.

It made several key pronouncements, Barrens says in his book, In Our Time (Nostra Aetate): How Catholics and Jews Built a New Relationship.

"By acknowledging the historical and spiritual bonds between Christians and Jews; by declaring false the charge that Jews killed Christ; and by deploring anti-Semitism, the Church officially set in motion the possibility and the hope for a future of mutual respect and understanding," he writes.

During an interview, Barrens, a Catholic, whose wife, Ruth, is Jewish, said it has been "an incredible blessing to have been born in this generation."

Nostra Aetate recognized the special relationship between Christians — especially Catholics — and Jews, Lynch said.

"There is an awful lot of commonality. We have the same Ten Commandments. We have the same prophets. We have the same patriarchs," Lynch said. "The biggest thing we have is we share two-thirds of sacred scriptures."

For Luski, a 2004 event highlights the thawed relationship between Tampa Bay Catholics and Jews. Then chairman of the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis, he was invited to give the keynote address to 110 Catholic priests. Other rabbis from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties attended.

"One of the days was devoted to learning about Judaism," Luski said, recalling that there was a kosher lunch. Overall, he said, the program made "a very powerful statement."

Despite the advances, both men agree there is work yet to be done.

"We're just taking baby steps yet," Lynch said. "We're crawling and not yet walking."

"We have to overcome those things that we have learned as children," Luski said. "We have to unlearn them and become open-minded and become respectful of each other.

"I personally am hopeful that this public discussion will continue to open minds that have been closed to openness over the centuries."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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