Addresses and Statements

Council of Christians and Jews NSW – Jews and Christians Walking Together: Where are We in 2024?

28 Jun 2024
Council of Christians and Jews NSW – Jews and Christians Walking Together: Where are We in 2024?

Rabbi Apple Memorial Lecture, Great Synagogue, Sydney, 25 June 2024 (Most Rev.) Anthony Fisher OP

Good evening and thank you Rabbi Elton for the kind introduction. It is a delight to be among friends at the Great Synagogue and a real honour to be invited to offer this address in memory of Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple and his contribution to Jewish-Christian relations. He truly was a trailblazer.  

1 (of 8). Familial love

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born to share adversity” (Prov 17:17). These words from the Mishlei Shlomo will serve to guide my reflections this evening. I will explore why the relationship between our two great faiths is best understood as a familial one: one based upon more than geographical coincidence, sociological similarity or present sentiment; founded on deep respect, piety and friendship; one that is truthful about past failures but committed to sharing sufferings and hopes going forward, and to collaborating for the human good.

Nicolas-Guy Brenet, Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing from Jacob (1768), Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Scriptures teach children to honour their parents and parents to love and guide their children.[1] The Book of Proverbs begins: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” (Prov 1:8). In the Hebrew Bible the Christian child hears their parents’ instruction. Some might say Christianity has proved to be a wayward son, an ungrateful daughter, a bastard child. But then, the Bible doesn’t idealise the relationships between Isaac and his sons Esau and Jacob, Eli and his boys Hopni and Phineas, Samuel and his sons Joel and Abijah, Saul and Jonathan, or David and Absalom. In Jesus’ story of The Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32), the son also causes his father a lot of grief.

Because the ‘Abrahamic’ religions grew up beside each other, with so many family resemblances, we might also think of Jews and Christians as siblings. But Biblical siblings don’t always get along as they should either: think Abel and Cain, Ishmael and Isaac, or Joseph and his brothers. Jacob and Esau’s power struggle began in the womb (Gen 25:23,27)! The older brother in Jesus’ tale is jealous of the younger, and Jesus’ friends, the sisters Martha and Mary, squabble over serving and vie for his attention (Lk 10:38-42). The 14th-century Provençal Rabbi, Levi ben Gershon, wisely said friends make for good company, while siblings often do not; but the common history and fate of family members grounds mutual responsibility for each other.[2] So the Bible tells us to love and forgive our natural, adopted or spiritual siblings.[3] As David sings: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps 133:1)

If Christians have not always been good relatives to Jews, if some have indulged prejudice, blaming, or the supersessionist heresy that they have replaced Jews as God’s chosen people, they might be reminded of St Paul. A robust apologist for the new religion, Paul never forgot he was a Jew and owed so much to Judaism.[4] He told the first Roman Catholics that “To the Jews belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the Law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them” came Jesus (Rom 9:4-5). “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Jews is that they may be saved. For I can testify that they have great zeal for God” (Rom 10:1-2), as God has for them (Rom 11:1). He describes Christians as a “wild olive shoot”, grafted onto the rich root of Israel, and warns the leaves not to vaunt themselves over the trunk (Rom 11:17-24). God’s election of the Jews, his gifts and call, are irrevocable (Rom 11:1,28-29).

For parent and child, sibling and sibling, or friends like David and Jonathan as close as brothers: we know that love is both the most natural thing in the world and often the hardest. It requires honesty, commitment, sacrifice, forgiveness, trust… things we must constantly work at.

3. I am an Israelite myself

“I am an Israelite myself,” Paul said, “a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” (Rom 11:1) Some of you know a little of my family history but, particularly in view of October 7 and since, I think I should tell you more. Towards the end of the nineteenth century around 70,000 Jews fled persecution in Romania,[5] including an erstwhile tailor to the Queen (Elisabeth of Wied, also known as Carmen Sylva). That dressmaker, with the tell-tale surname of Goldenberg, his wife and children, migrated from Bucharest via Italy to Alexandria, a city that had welcomed refugees all the way back to Jesus.

One of those children was Lisa. There in Egypt she met her future husband Jean Baylis, a merchant. On the 12th day of the month of Adar in the year 5671, they entered the Holy Covenant of Marriage. Jean declared in Hebrew, “Be thou my wife, according to the Law of Moses and of Israel. I faithfully promise that I will be a true husband unto thee: I will honour, cherish and protect thee; I will work for, support and provide for thee all that is necessary for thy due sustenance, as becomes a Jewish husband. I also take upon myself all further obligations prescribed by our religious law.” And Lisa “plighted her troth unto him, in affection and sincerity,” taking upon herself the duties of a Jewish wife. They raised three children, one of them named Ida, whose birth in 1912 was inscribed in the Civil Register of the Israelite Community of Alexandria.

After the Great War, the family moved to another cosmopolitan city, Shanghai,China, where they were members of the Ashkenazi Jewish Communal Association and British Protected Persons.There Ida courted and married José Maguregui Ibarzabal, a 26-year-old Spanish-Basque sportsman. To marry him, she became a Catholic, at least formally, and she gave him two daughters, one being my mother, Maria Gloria. Being far away from Europe, Grandma, Mum and her sister were safe from the Shoah, but many of their relatives were not so lucky… To her dying day my grandmother feared another holocaust.

So, my mother’s mother was a Jew and their mothers before them for umpteen generations. And though I am a Catholic and archbishop, like the apostle Paul I do not forget where I have come from. When we speak of Jews and Christians as family, it has a particular resonance for me. And when I experience, as I have Sunday after Sunday for many months now, in the park between my cathedral and this synagogue, demonstrators screaming vile things against Jews and calling for an end to the state of Israel, when they pipe these messages through loudspeakers into the middle of my most solemn Mass, when my congregation tell me they are now afraid to cross Hyde Park on a Sunday, I know we are all targets of this hatred.

4. Progress and regress

Commenting on the growing friendship between Jews and Catholics in his lifetime, Rabbi Apple told the story of a Catholic lay woman back in 1958, who worked in the office of the United Jewish Education Board, but feared entering a synagogue would go against her religion. By 2005, however, the Rabbi could host three cardinals at a synagogue function with no one batting an eyelid. Less than two decades later, the Catholic archbishop is offering a lecture in memory of the Rabbi in that same synagogue. That’s real progress since 1958!

How did that happen? A story is told of another rabbi who asked his students how to tell when night ends and day begins. One suggested it’s when one can distinguish a sheep from a dog at a distance. No, the teacher said. Another thought it was when one could differentiate between a date tree and a fig. No, he said again. They pleaded with the master to tell them the answer. “It is when you look into the face of a stranger and see your sister or brother—only then is the night truly over.”[6]

Given enlightened attitudes toward ‘the other’ in modern Australia, we might have hoped the ‘night’ of antisemitism was over. But since the atrocities of October 7, the darkness of that pernicious kind of human hatred has resurfaced, not just in protests, graffiti and the social media, but even in supposedly ‘enlightened’ spaces such as journalism, universities, national politics and international diplomacy. Tropes long consigned to history are being heard again.

In the recent Sky News special, Never Again, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he feared since October 7 some people think “just a little bit of antisemitism is okay”.[7] Former Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, wept as he interviewed a couple forced to close their family business following a vicious antisemitic social media campaign. Before and since then there have been many ugly incidents. Sadly, some leaders have been slow to condemn the harassment of Jews and to intervene to protect them, to check those sprouting antisemitism or denying the state of Israel’s right to exist.

If, as Solomon claimed, “brothers are born to share adversity”, then when the night comes for one, the other must be ready to sit with him and give cause to hope for the light’s return. In the face of recent regression, we must recall real progress in the world since the Shoah and between our faiths since Nostra Aetate; we must insist upon the religious and humane basis of that progress; we must repudiate what is worst and recommit to what is best in the human spirit and our joint story.

5. Nostra Ætate and beyond

Pope St John XXIII and Jules Isaac

Angelo Roncalli was a priest-diplomat during the Second World War and intervened repeatedly to save Jews from the Nazis. On receiving a Torah scroll in gratitude from Jewish leaders in 1960, he famously said “We are all sons of the same heavenly Father. Among us there must always be the brightness of love and its practice… I am Joseph, your brother.”[8]

But he knew Christians had not always behaved as a beloved younger brother. On another occasion he said “We [Christians] realise that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew… Forgive us for falsely accusing you…”.[9]  Elected pope in 1958, he convened the Second Vatican Council. His friendship with the French scholar Jules Isaac, who had documented the history of Christian contempt towards Jewry, prompted Pope John to have a document on the issue prepared for the Council.

Nostra Ætate (1965) insisted on God’s unique and enduring relationship to the Jewish people, condemned antisemitism, and called for mutual respect, dialogue and collaboration between Catholics and Jews.[10] It opened a new chapter for our subsequent leaders to write.

A year after the Council, the new pope, Paul VI, established a secretariat, then a dedicated commission, to foster relations between Catholics and Jews worldwide and bring to life the aspirations of Nostra Ætate.[11]

That dialogue was further energised by the next pope, John Paul II. He repeatedly met with Jewish leaders, commemorated the Holocaust, and raised his voice against antisemitism.[12] He established diplomatic relations with Israel. At Auschwitz and the Wailing Wall, he prayed in repentance for the past failures of Christians and for reconciliation.[13] In 1986 he became the first pope to enter the Roman synagogue, in a move Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff considered “another turning point”.[14] On that occasion and again in the year 2000, John Paul expressed shame and apology for the oppression of Jews down the centuries. But his most memorable words were about our proper relationship: “You are our dearly beloved elder brothers.”[15]

6. An Aussie is appointed

To deepen these bonds, John Paul called upon the services of Edward Idris Cassidy, a priest ordained (and now buried) at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. Having served as a papal diplomat like Roncalli, he was appointed President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in 1989, at a time when the momentum following Nostra Ætate risked being lost.[16]

Cassidy advocated for greater appreciation of Christian indebtedness to Judaism, and for an honest appraisal of the Church’s history in relation to the Shoah and other persecution. He told the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Prague in 1990 that Christians must not only to love their Jewish neighbours today but do teshuvah (penance) for historic failings.

These themes featured in the landmark Vatican document, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998).[17] It called for a “binding commitment” to ensuring that never again would evil be allowed “to prevail over good as it did for millions of the Jewish people.”[18] From an acknowledgement of past sins it looked forward to a time when there would be “no more anti-Judaism among Christians or anti-Christian sentiment among Jews”, but a relationship of mutual respect befitting the children of Abraham who adore the one Creator-God.[19]

We Remember received mixed reviews in the Jewish community. Some judged it too little, too late. Others thought it was progress. One such voice was Rabbi Apple, who had the chance to state his balanced praise and criticism of the document in front of now-Cardinal Cassidy, as well as Australia’s first Catholic Governor-General, Sir William Deane, at a symposium held at the Wesley Centre.[20]

One testament to Cardinal Cassidy’s success in Jewish-Christian relations was the fact that, when he died in 2021, a Jewish leader, Jeremy Jones, penned his obituary.[21] One champion of interfaith dialogue honoured another, and the legacies of both men honour the Creator.

Pope Francis at the Western wall of the Temple in Jerusalem

At the time of his installation as pope, one of Francis’ closest friends was Rabbi Abraham Skorka, with whom he had co-authored a book and co-hosted a television programme. Like his predecessor, Francis has visited Israel, Auschwitz and the Roman synagogue. He’s had regular meetings with Jewish leaders, and made frequent statements against antisemitism. Though like his predecessors he must walk a fine line and there have been missteps, he has reaffirmed the special relationship between us amidst the most recent troubles and wrote a heartfelt letter of condolence and support earlier this year to “My Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel”.[22]

7. Catholic-Jewish Relations in Australia

How did all this play out in Australia? Well, in 1992, the Catholic Bishops, with important input from Rabbi Apple, released their first guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations, The Faithfulness of the Lord Endures Forever. Aware of recurrent hostility in Australia toward some migrant groups, of the presence of many Holocaust survivors in our community, and of tensions over proselytism and fundamentalism, the Bishops commended research, education, dialogue, social action, and an annual day of joint prayer and study.[23] Rabbi Apple dubbed it “the Australian Nostra Ætateand thought it “placed Australia ahead of most countries in Catholic-Jewish harmony”.[24]

Last year saw the publication of a new document, Walking Together: Catholics with Jews in the Australian Context. Here the bishops and their advisers, including Emmanuel Nathan and Peter Wertheim who are with us tonight, as well as the late Jeremy Jones, sought to update approaches in view of changing circumstances. They reminded Christians of the ‘Jewishness’ of Jesus, encouraged deeper appreciation of theological overlaps and differences, called for greater liturgical sensitivity, and proposed various collaborations. [25] Walking Together concluded with a passage from the 2015 Vatican document, The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable: “The first goal of dialogue is to add depth to the reciprocal knowledge of Jews and Christians. One can only learn to love what one has gradually come to know, and one can only know truly and profoundly what one loves.”[26]

Another call, then, to familial love. Rabbi Apple understood this, and it was through his friendship with Cardinals Cassidy, Clancy and Pell, and with clergy and seminarians, that he could share his knowledge and love. A friendship with two nuns enabled his wife Marian and him to establish a post-graduate course in Judaism for Catholic school teachers. So, too, the invitations to Catholic teachers and students to visit the Great Synagogue and the Jewish museums, arousing curiosity, building bridges, and ensuring greater understanding.[27]

When I was first an auxiliary bishop, I found Jewish leaders willing collaborators, in promoting religious freedom and sound bioethics; in helping ensure the World Youth Day Stations of the Cross did not mislead or offend; and in having Rabbi Lawrence represent all faith traditions in addressing Pope Benedict. As archbishop, I’ve experienced similar cooperation, as when Rabbi Elton heroically came to dinner at my house while dizzy with jetlag only hours after first arriving in Sydney. Since then, he has been to my place many times, and hosted me at various events here. Other Jewish leaders have been equally fraternal. Meanwhile, the Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations, led by the indomitable Sr Giovanni Farquer RSJ, and the Council for Christians and Jews have quietly continued their important work of promoting respect and dialogue.

On the occasion when we marked the golden jubilee of Nostra Ætate, I said I was confident our two communities would continue to bear common witness to faith, hope, and love. That night we signed a joint declaration, pledging to honour the victims and the righteous of the Shoah, and the visionaries and pioneers of Catholic-Jewish dialogue; recognising the progress since Nostra Ætate, and our local experiences of reconciliation and friendship; and recommitting to dialogue, to fighting antisemitism, and to faithful witness to the dignity and rights of all God’s children. [28]

The resulting Nostra Ætate Working Party has promoted professional development courses for educators, pilot programmes for secondary students, working days at the Jewish Museum for HSC students, and junior programmes integrated with History, English and Art.[29] This emphasis on education would have pleased Rabbi Apple the teacher, historian and lover of words.[30] Educational spaces are fertile ones for cultivating understanding but also friendship.

8. We must keep working at it

In my remarks at our jubilee celebration of Nostra Ætate, I said reconciliation is never complete and we must we keep working at it. Why? First, because if Judaism and Christianity are genuine relatives, then we know the natural law and the revealed Torah demand this of us. Secondly, because the mission of eradicating anti-semitism is not yet accomplished. Thirdly, because if Jews and Christians overcome historical differences and demonstrate not just a live-and-let-live tolerance but genuine fraternity, they offer our divided world a crucial witness. Fourthly, challenges such as secularisation and religious discrimination are ones we best face together. And fifthly, because I am convinced the world still needs our joint service.

In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, John Cleese plays Reg, a member of the People’s Liberation Front of Judea. In a terrorist cell meeting he asks rhetorically, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” His fellows respond with example after example of the benefits of Roman civilisation. “All right… all right,” Reg concedes, “but apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a freshwater system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”[31]

“All right, all right,” the secular interlocutor interjects, “but apart from the sanity sanctity brings to a world of sin; the hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and leprosaria; the orphanages, schools and universities; feeding the indigent and so many other welfare services; or supports for families and neighbourhoods… what has Judeo-Christianity ever done for us? Apart from explicating a sublime moral code and vision of the person; ending human sacrifice, cannibalism, slavery, infanticide and the chattel conception of women and children; shaping our language and promoting literacy and libraries; inventing the scientific method and sponsoring so much science, medicine and technology; sponsoring much of the greatest art, architecture, music and literature, and providing its greatest exponents; grounding our laws common, civil, constitutional and international and our understanding of human rights; and providing the metaphysical underpinnings for our polity… apart from all that, what have Christians and Jews ever done for us?”[32]  Well, I’d say we’ve done a lot. And there’s a lot we still have to do for humanity.


I started my talk with the wisdom of Solomon that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born to share adversity.” Early in 2016 I was paralysed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I will never forget the kindness of Jeremy Jones, a friend since university days. He visited me in hospital and prayed psalms of lament and hope for me in Hebrew and English. It was deeply touching and, as he in turn battled a cancer that would claim his life too soon, I regularly prayed those psalms for him. So, too, in the dark days since October 7, I have called my people to pray for victims and survivors in the Holy Land, for when our Jewish relatives suffer, we suffer with them.

Rabbi Apple was once asked by some children what was the most important day of his life. He cleverly responded “Today and tomorrow. Today, because every day is an exciting new opportunity. Tomorrow, because if I handle today wisely, I can help to shape the future.”[33] His words might inspire our continuing journey together as children of God and of Abraham. Rabbi Raymond Apple dedicated much of his energy to that familial friendship. לברכה צדיק זכר   zikhrono livrakha—may his memory be a blessing.

[1] Children must honour their parents: Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16; Prov 1:8; 20:20; Isa ch 1; cf. Sir 3:8; 7:27; Mt 15:4; 19:19; Eph 6:2; Col 3:20. Parents must love and guide their children: Dt 4:9; 6:6-7; Ps 103:13; 127:1-5; Prov 17:6; 19:18; 22:6; 23:13-14; 29:17; cf. Eph 6:4; Col 3:21; 1Tim 5:8; Heb 12:5-6.

[2] “Judaism on sibling relationships,” My Jewish Learning

[3] Gen 4:9; 12:13; Ex 4:16; Lev 19:17-18; 2Sam 1:26; Ezek 44:25; Job 42:11; Ruth 1:16-17; Eccles 4:9-10; cf. Mt 5:22-24; 12:46-50; 18:15; Jn 13:34-35; 1Cor 6:1-8; Rom 12:10; Eph 4:32; Phil 4:1; Col 3:13; 1Tim 5:1-2,8; 1Jn 2:9-11; 3:14-17; 4:7-8,20-21; 1Pet 1:22; 3:8; Jas 4:1-2.

[4] Phil 3:4-6; Rom 3:1-2; Gal 1:13-14; 1Cor 7:18; Acts 22:3; 28:23-28.

[5] Stevan Pavlowitch, A History of the Balkans 1804-1945 (Taylor & Francis, 2016), p. 129; Vladimir Wertsman, “Romanian Jews in America: Early immigrant vignettes,” Multicultural Review (Summer 2005), 49-51; “History of the Jews in Romania,” Wikipedia.

[6] There are many versions of this story and the origins are unclear, see for example Rabbi Annie Tucker, “Seeing thefFace of God – Parashat Vayishlach,” published by the Temple Centre Israel 2019.

[7] “Josh Frydenberg’s tears over anti-Semitism directed at young Jewish couple,” 28 May 2024.

[8] “Pope John XXIII,” Jewish Virtual Library

[9] “Our eyes have been cloaked,” Catholic Herald 14 May 1965.

[10] Vatican Council II, Nostra Ætate: Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to the Non-Christian Religions (1965), 4.

[11] Edward Cassidy, Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue: Unitatis Redintegratio and Nostra Aetate (New York: Paulist Press, 2005), 163-164. The significant documents produced by the CRRJ include: Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (n.4) (1974); Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church (1985); We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998);and The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable (2015).

[12] “Pope John Paul II: Relations with Jews and Israel,” Jewish Virtual Library

[13] Cassidy, Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, 185; see for full text of this address.

[14] For the friendship between Toaff and JPII, see Riccardo Shemuel Di Sengi, “When Pope John Paul II came to the Great Synagogue of Rome” The Tablet 19 May 2021; Cassidy, Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, 184-5.

[15] Pope John Paul II, Address to the Synagogue in Rome, 13 April 1986

[16] The so-called “Difficult Years of Dialogue,” see Cassidy, Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, 186-192.

[17] We Remember the Shoah (1998), IV.

[18] We Remember the Shoah (1998), V.

[19] We Remember the Shoah (1998),V.

[20] See Rabbi Raymond Apple, “Catholic-Jewish relations in Australia – a personal view” OzTorah

[21] Jeremy Jones, “Cardinal Edward Cassidy became a champion of Jewish people,” The Australian 19 April 2021.

[22] “Pope reaffirms Christians’ special relationship with Jews amid rising antisemitism, Gaza war,” AP News 4 February 2024; John Allen, “It’s impossible to ignore Pope Francis’s growing Jewish problem,” Crux 26 November 2023; Kimberly Winston, “7 facts about Pope Francis and the Jews on the 10th anniversary of his papacy,” Forward 10 March 2023’ Roberto Cetera, “Rabbis and scholars thank Pope for sowing friendship amidst animosity,” Vatican News 15 February 2024; “Pope Francis,” Jewish Virtual Library

[23] Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, The Faithfulness of the Lord Endures Forever: Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations, November 1992.

[24] Rabbi Raymond Apple, “Reflections over a lifetime,” Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal 24 (4) (2020), 603-4.

[25] Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Walking Together: Catholics with Jews in the Australian Context 2023.

[26]  The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable, 44; Walking Together: Catholics with Jews in the Australian Context, 6.

[27] Apple, “Reflections over a lifetime.”

[28] Signed on 28 October 2015 by: Anthony Fisher OP, Archbishop of Sydney; Christopher Prowse, Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn, Chairman of ACBC for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Relations; Mr Jeremy Spinak, President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies; Mr Robert Goot AM SC, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

[29] See the ACEIR 2023 Overview document.

[30] Benjamin Elton, ‘Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD: A Tribute on his 85th Birthday” in Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, 24, 4 (2020), 591-6; See also Rabbi Apple “My Life with words,” in Benseon Apple (ed.), Rabbi Apple on the Parashah ( Sydney: Great Synagogue, 2023), 6.

[31] Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Scene 8: The Grumpy People’s Front of Judea: 10.htm

[32] For sources for these claims see Anthony Fisher, “The West: post- or pre-Christian?” First Things 330 (February 2023) 19-26.

[33] Rabbi Apple, “The best days of our lives – B’Ha’a lot’cha,” in Rabbi Apple on the Parashah, 50.