NEWTON — The leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston told more than 700 members of the local Jewish community on Thursday that both faiths must “build a civilization of love” in a world often plagued by violence and religious hostilities.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley delivered his remarks at Temple Emanuel to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a proclamation from Pope Paul VI in 1965 that stressed the common ground that Catholics share with other religions and forcefully repudiated anti-Semitism.
Crucially, the document stated that Jews did not bear collective responsibility for the death of Christ. That allegation had been used throughout history to justify acts of anti-Semitic violence, including the Holocaust.
O’Malley noted Thursday that while some Catholics made heroic efforts to help Jewish refugees during World War II, too many Christians were either complicit or actively supportive of the Nazi regime.
“The church can approach the Shoah only in a spirit of repentance,” O’Malley said, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
His remarks came at a time of heightened sensitivity in Newton, where three incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti were reported in recent months at F.A. Day Middle School, including an incident last week in which “Burn the Jews” was scrawled on the wall of a boys bathroom.
Asked about the graffiti after the event on Thursday night, O’Malley said the episode “certainly underscores the need for ongoing education and dialogue around these issues.”
During his public remarks, O’Malley credited Jews and Catholics in Greater Boston with working to improve relationships between the faiths and said both religions must work to eradicate social ills such as poverty and war.
He also said that the Catholic church has long supported Israel.
“I stand here to say that we have much in common, and that we will be judged by the same God,” said the cardinal, who received a standing ovation at the end of his prepared remarks.
Afterward, O’Malley was asked during a question-and-answer session about “Islamophobia,” a term used to describe anti-Muslim rhetoric in the public sphere.
“Certainly this is a topic we’re very concerned about,” he said, adding that he is heartened that the local Jewish community is “clear in condemning” such behavior.
Other speakers at the event, which was hosted by the temple as well as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee Boston, included Yehuda Yaakov, the Consul General of Israel to New England.
“We believe in coexistence,” Yaakov said, recalling his words to O’Malley during a prior conversation. “We believe in partnership.”
Another speaker, Robert Trestan, the New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, thanked O’Malley for his “friendship and sincere commitment to Catholic Jewish relations.”
A third attendee, Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee, reflected on the historical significance of Nostra Aetate and said that while it fell short in some areas, it “had the potential to save Jewish lives.”
“It was not a perfect document,” Marans said. “It was a good document.”