Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl discusses the Holocaust during an Aug. 7 address to Catholic educators participating in the Bearing Witness program.
Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl discusses the Holocaust during an Aug. 7 address to Catholic educators participating in the Bearing Witness program.
In grade school, David Friedman, now the Washington regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, was teased and bullied by Catholic school kids for being Jewish.

Nowadays Friedman finds it a bit ironic that he helps educate Catholic school teachers about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust at a summer institute called Bearing Witness that ran from Aug. 3-8 in Washington.

And although Freidman said he can joke about his grade school days now, "the truth was I wrestled with what it meant, and how much weight I should have given to those problems with the Catholic kids."

In a lecture about anti-Semitism after the Holocaust, Friedman told educators about the Holocaust's "graphic horror," but he added that people should be careful not to "measure everything in terms of the Holocaust."

"How much weight do we give to things that are happening now?" he said to 20 Catholic educators from the Washington area who sat around a long conference table at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters on Aug. 7. That day, Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl also spoke to the group about Jewish-Catholic relations and the Holocaust. Earlier in the week, Catholic educators ate a traditional Shabbat dinner at a synagogue, learned about Jewish beliefs and practices from a rabbi, and met a Holocaust survivor.

"It has certainly been really enlightening to have so much interfaith dialogue," said Rebecca Smith, a world religions and morality teacher at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg. Smith added that it is important to have a "deep appreciation," for other faiths so people can work together for peace and justice.

The institute is sponsored by the Washington DC Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League in partnership with the Archdiocese of Washington and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Anti-Defamation League also cooperated with the National Catholic Educational Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to provide the summer institute to educators. The workshop brings Catholic school educators together to learn more about diversity, prejudice and bigotry in contemporary society. The goal of the program is to empower the teachers with this knowledge so they can teach it in their classrooms.

Smith said during her time at the institute, she has deepened her understanding of Jesus as a Jew, and her understanding of Scripture from a Jewish perspective.

I began to "understand and appreciate the interwoven history of both of our faiths," she said.

Sitting among the educators at the conference table, Archbishop Wuerl noted how important interfaith dialogue is. When Archbishop Wuerl was a young priest, a rabbi invited him to speak at a temple, and although he was flattered by the invitation, he was anxious about what he would say.

When the archbishop told the rabbi of his fears, the rabbi suggested, "Why don't you start talking about what we have in common?"

Archbishop Wuerl noted, "The U.S. Catechism tells us that this is the fabric of our own identity ...threads that are woven together through the fabric of our common heritage."

The archbishop then spoke about how the Church's document, "Nostra Aetate," opens up an avenue for mutual respect between Jewish and Christian faiths.

"It set up markers for us along the way," he said. "Nosta Aetate," promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965 during the Second Vatican Council, declares the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions.

Catholics should also look to the example set by Pope Benedict XVI when he came to Washington, the archbishop said.

When the Holy Father was in the Archdiocese of Washington, "he wanted to have a meeting with interfaith leaders. He also carved out a meeting that would just be with Jewish leadership," he said.

The archbishop also spoke about the "huge void," created by the Holocaust, and encouraged teachers to pass this knowledge onto the next generation.

"We are at a point where we can recognize the tragedy of the Holocaust and move into another understanding. This helps build that sense of commonality in our humanity," he said.

Liz Hadley, an English teacher at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, said after attending the program she has learned to teach students that the survivors of the Holocaust "were not just victims, but they went on to flourish."

Lauren Schwer, a religion teacher and campus ministry director at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, said after the conference she became more aware of "the dignity of the human person."

"We share a common human heritage," she said, adding that this understanding of commonality is also a call to take problems like the Darfur genocide and poverty in the United States more seriously.