CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Chief Rabbi of Poland on Thursday described the Catholic Church’s annual Day of Judaism as a “holy day.”

Speaking at a livestreamed press conference on Jan. 14, Rabbi Michael Schudrich expressed gratitude for the annual commemoration observed by Polish Catholics since 1998.

“The Day of Judaism in the Church for me, a Rabbi, is a holy day,” he said at the press conference, which unveiled the theme for this year’s commemoration on Sunday, Jan. 17.

The theme will be “Life and death. ‘Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.’” The quotation is from Deuteronomy 30:15 and the theme reflects the loss of life worldwide as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The Day of Judaism is held at the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held annually on Jan. 18-25. In Poland, the Catholic Church also observes a Day of Islam at the end of the ecumenical week.

In his address, Schudrich, who was born in New York City and whose grandparents emigrated from Poland to the United States before the Second World War, noted that the Day of Judaism was inspired by St. John Paul II.

The Polish pope, who led the Church from 1978 to 2005, strengthened ties between Catholics and the Jewish community. He described Jews as “our elder brothers” and became the first pope to make an official visit to a synagogue, in Rome in 1986.

Schudrich said that one of the most important things he learned from John Paul II was that if you are secure in your own faith then knowing about other faiths can be an enriching experience.

The 65-year-old has served as Chief Rabbi since 2004 and is credited with helping to inspire a “Jewish renaissance” in the country, which was home to more than three million Jews before the Holocaust.

In 2010, he was invited to travel with Polish president Lech Kaczyński and other dignitaries to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. Schudrich declined because the flight was on the Sabbath. The plane crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk, killing all 96 people on board.

Also speaking at the press conference was Bishop Rafał Markowski, an auxiliary bishop of Warsaw and president of the Polish bishops’ council for religious dialogue.

He noted that the Church was engaged in three principal forms of dialogue: ecumenical, interreligious, and with the modern world. While dialogue is not easy, he said, it is necessary for identifying common values that are worth fighting for.

Bishop Romuald Kamiński, head of the diocese of Warszawa-Praga, said that the Day of Judaism helped Catholics to learn about their Jewish brothers’ faith in God and their difficulties.

He said that Poles, in particular, had a responsibility to ensure that the creative contribution of Jews to the country’s history is remembered and made known to the next generation.

The focus of this year’s commemoration is in the diocese of Warszawa-Praga, where the day will be marked with meetings, a moment of prayer at a Jewish cemetery, and a liturgy of the word with addresses by both Catholics and Jews, ending with a concert. The day will also be observed in other dioceses across the country.

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