Archbishop receives warm Jewish welcome


Archbishop Robert Carlson assured St. Louis area Jewish leaders at a reception in his honor last week that he would work for peace and do everything in his power to make St. Louis, and the world at large, a better place. The Archbishop also recalled a stunning visit to Jerusalem and said, “I appreciate your homeland and the many contributions of the Jewish community, and I look forward to working with you.”

About 75 representatives of local Jewish organizations, synagogues and temple, along with rabbis from various area congregations attended the reception organized by the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.

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Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation welcomed Archbishop Carlson by saying, “You lead a large, powerful and dynamic community, whose people, leaders and institutions strengthen our community. The Catholic and Jewish communities share so much in our commitment to God, to religious values, civic responsibility and social justice.”

Rosenberg gave an overview of Jewish Federation and its network of constituent agencies, and said there were parallels to institutions in the Catholic community.

“We support an impressive array of organizations that provide social, health, Jewish education and activities that promote Jewish identity, recreational, cultural and community relations programs that connect us to the larger community,” he said. “Many of these organizations have strong connections with their Catholic counterparts. And like Catholic agencies, most of our organizations and programs are open to all regardless of religion, or any other background.”

Rosenberg said working toward peace in Israel and standing up to the threat of Iran are two issues “about which we ask your understanding and your help.”

On Iran, Rosenberg said, “No other issue threatens as much the security of the world and the stability of the Middle East. As the European Union foreign minister recently said, the world cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. . . We ask the Church to use its enormous influence and moral authority as part of a global coalition to prevent a nuclear Iran.”

In his remarks, Carlson, who was installed as the ninth Archbishop of St. Louis in June, and who serves 566,000 Catholics in Eastern Missouri, spoke about his role in founding a religious community in the country of Columbia. “People are often willing to desire peace, to work for peace, but very few people are willing to pray for peace. And the Lord asked that I establish a place, in Columbia, where people could come and pray for peace. I called it Pacem in Terres, and it was to be a place where there was praying for peace, in Columbia, a nation in which there has been much violence.

“Today, I am very proud of the fact that we have a religious community there called the Messengers of Peace, and each day, the brothers gather to pray for peace in Columbia and peace on earth. They do the same at 6 p.m. each night. During the day, they serve the poor in the area.

“I believe that when we begin to see our neighbor as another self, and when we see the violence that is in the world, we must pray and then we must use our talent and ability to change,” he said.

Carlson said he was struck by a recent statistic claiming St. Louis as the second most violent city in the United States. “What we are dealing with, and this affects every religious body, is the breakdown of the family,” he said. “The one thing I know we can do, because there is no difference, is to work together to strengthen family bonds. In doing that, we will deal not only with issues like violence, but also. Violent incidents will continue to happen unless we in the Judeo-Christian community come together to work to strengthen families across the board.”

Carlson, 64, a native of Minneapolis, previously served as the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Bishop of Sioux Falls, S.D. and then as Bishop of Saginaw before being named Archbishop of St. Louis, the successor to Archbishop Raymond Burke. Carlson shared with the audience at the reception that his priorities had shifted after he survived grade-four bladder cancer in the 1990s, having once been told by his doctor to prepare his will because of imminent death. He has undergone a total of seven cancer-related procedures and partly credits a trip to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal for his recovery.

“My recovery two and a half years ago gave me a second chance,” Carlson said. “I learned that the most important thing in life is to use your gifts and talents to make the world a better place.”

Rabbi Brad Horwitz helped welcome Carlson at the reception. Director of the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life at the Jewish Community Center, Rabbi Horwitz also serves as president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, which includes among its members rabbis from all streams of Judaism.

Horwitz quoted the passage in the Book of Leviticus, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” noting that “the Baal Shem Tov in the 18th century had said that just as we love ourselves despite our faults, so must we love our neighbors, despite their faults and differences. In this spirit, I extend a warm welcome to you.”

Gerry Greiman, president of JCRC, noted the “many areas in which our communities collaborate,” particularly on social justice issues, and that the JCRC and its affiliated agencies look forward to working with the Archbishop on areas of shared concern, including the major issue of combating hunger in the community.

Prior to the reception, Carlson toured the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center and was presented with copies of books by local scholar David Oughten on how to teach about the Holocaust in Catholic schools.

Those who attended the reception were favorably impressed with Carlson’s intellect, sense of humor and affable manner.

Rabbi Mark Shook of Temple Israel, who has been active for years in the local Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Group said, “Archbishop Carlson is every bit as dedicated to his Catholic faith as each of his most recent predecessors. He has an engaging way with people that make them feel appreciated and listened to. The doctrine is always present, but he chooses not to lead with it. It is as if he wants us to come to know him first as a compassionate and spiritual person and then he will take his thoughtful stand as a leader of the Church. It is very tough to express doctrinal disagreements with someone who is so likeable. I know that our perspective will also receive a respectful hearing from him as well.”