Cooperation with the Catholic and Muslim communities

There were two moments that touched me immensely as one of the members and leaders of the Jewish community in Porto. The resumption of very strong bonds of friendship and camaraderie with my dear friends from the Catholic and Muslim communities of Porto, followed by my children with great enthusiasm, were milestones of personal and collective rejoicing as a Jew with roots in Smyrna and a member of this beautiful Jewish community in Porto, to the point that today I can already say that it was worthwhile having lived.

Whereas relations between Jews and Muslims, which thrived for centuries, have endured extremely negative episodes in many places during the last decades, which is deeply to be lamented, and whereas it is often better and more effective to create and extend local bonds of peace, so that they can spread from one place to another, than to try to achieve world peace through international forums and much less through the massive propaganda of agnostic belief, in 2016 the Jewish and Islamic Communities affirmed a Memorandum of Friendship and Cooperation. They promised to meet regularly to bolster their good relations, and undertake to lead their members to enjoy mutual friendship and cooperation in different areas.

In addition to the many meetings that the leaders of both communities held at concerts, museum openings and other cultural events, this friendship extended their ties across borders when the Jewish community of Porto became one of the founding members of a project called "The Mukhayriq Initiative - Building Bridges for a Better Future" under the auspices of the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement. The project aims to restart the relationships between Jews and Muslims all over the world.

Named after a long-forgotten rabbi who gave his life defending the Prophet Muhammad in an epic 7th-century battle, the initiative will celebrate the great moments of historical brotherhood between Muslims and Jews. The Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Issa, agreed to be the Chairman of this initiative. He knows there is a need to discuss the past as a source of inspiration.

The need for dialogue and brotherhood of Jews with Muslims is as important as the need for dialogue and brotherhood between Jews and Catholics, especially in Portugal, a country where the Catholics are a majority since before the official foundation of Portugal in 1143. D. Hugo, the first bishop of Porto, governed the city between 1113 and 1136.

Whereas the Catholic and Jewish Communities of Oporto cohabited peacefully, even before the foundation of Portugal, and currently enjoy excellent relations, in 2018 the leaders of the two communities established a cooperation protocol in social and philanthropic endeavours, striving to organize, and cooperate in, joint charitable works, so as to bestow a life with dignity on many of those shackled by poverty, lethal vice, or moral desolation.

In addition, the leaders of the Jewish and Catholic Communities committed to meet regularly to bolster their good relations, mutual respect and friendship, and undertake to lead their members to respect differences, and enjoy mutual friendship and cooperation. Social, cultural and other dialogue is necessary to achieve full tolerance between the Roman Catholic Church and Jewish communities, particularly in societies in which negative stereotypes are entrenched, ignoring for example the fact that many Jews struggle financially.

In 2019, the CIP/CJP devised a global project involving close cooperation with the Oporto Roman Catholic Diocese, with the following activities: social causes (helping children, the elderly and the sick), promoting the Episcopal Palace Museum and the Jewish Museum of Oporto, and the production of four films - "The Nun's Kaddish", "Sefarad", "1618" and "The Light of Judah" - covering events that have occurred over the centuries in Portuguese society.

The films mentioned above contain no melodramatic sensationalism, and the scripts and rough cuts were shown beforehand to the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oporto, D. Manuel Linda, who is today one of my best friends. These initiatives have received financial and practical support from Jewish philanthropic families as well as organizations such as the Embassy of the State of Israel in Portugal, the Anti-Defamation League, etc. The CIP/CJP works on the premise that leadership to defeat barriers of prejudice includes combining aid to the needy and education, such as through films/museums.

Pope Francis wrote a letter to the Jewish community about the film “The Nun’s Kaddish”, saying that he, “Calls down divine favours in abundance on all those directly or indirectly involved and represented in carrying out this film, that they may be the leaven of fraternity, hope and joy in the heart of the world, and wishes everyone the greatest happiness with God’s blessings.”

May the future be one of peace and prosperity for Jews, Catholics, Muslims and all inhabitants of Portugal, Europe and the world in general. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, said all peoples and cultures are different but they complement each other admirably and they must cooperate towards a better, fairer, more perfect, more divine world.