NEW YORK — The World Jewish Congress mourns the passing of Australian Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, a longtime Vatican diplomat and former President of the Commission for the Religious Relations with the Jews, who died in Newcastle, Australia, at the age of 96.
Cardinal Cassidy served for 33 years in the diplomatic service of the Holy See before returning to Rome in 1988 to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. In 1989, he was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, undertaking at the same time the role of President of the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. In 1991, he was elevated to Cardinal.
World Jewish Congress Executive Vice President Maram Stern recalls that when Cardinal Cassidy assumed the presidency of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “Relations between the Pontifical Commission and international Jewish organizations were strained because of a series of controversies such as the Vatican’s initial support for the Carmelite Convent in Auschwitz (which was ultimately moved), and meetings by the Pope with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, whose Nazi past had been exposed by the World Jewish Congress.” The consequence of these conflicts was the suspension of meetings of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) between 1985 to 1990.
Stern added, “But Cardinal Cassidy, upon arriving in 1989 at the helm of the Commission, decided to end the deadlock. He played a leading role in resuming dialogue between Catholics and Jews, and helped drive the planning for a meeting of ILC held in Prague in September 1990, which constituted, with its final declaration, one of the milestone meetings in the ongoing Jewish-Catholic dialogue, in which Cardinal Cassidy was the first church official to call publicly for Catholics to do ‘teshuvah,’ the Hebrew term for repentance.
“In the years following the Prague meeting, we were able finally to settle the controversy over the Auschwitz Convent, and both parties were able to begin the important work of looking at what we could say together to the world in which we live, a process which continued at ILC meetings in Baltimore, Jerusalem and Rome. What began as an institutional relationship evolved into a personal friendship that continued over the years after his retirement in 2001.
“With Cardinal Cassidy, we worked together, sometimes in divergence, lived as a part of our relationship, but we never accepted that the difference could stop the dialogue of our communities. Cardinal Cassidy during his presidency asked many times to ‘look to a common future.’ His passing must inspire us to move his legacy forward to the next generations engaged in Jewish-Catholic dialogue.”
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