Oporto: a light unto the nations

(January 27, 2020 / The Tablet) A collaboration that stands as a beacon of hope for others and a re-awakening of Jewish life in Oporto and beyond.

Oporto is steeped in Catholicism. While our city may be best known for its wine production, it is now also home to a pioneering interfaith initiative.

The one lesson we can draw from history is that we never learn from history. Unfortunately anti-Semitism has resurfaced throughout Europe. It has taken a pernicious, often vicious turn. Too often, the story of small Jewish communities is one of a fight for survival. In Oporto, however, we have decided to combat this new strain of anti-Semitism through dialogue, collaboration and education.

Towards the end of last year, the Jewish and Catholic communities of Oporto came together to maximise what they had in common as opposed to focusing on what divided them. Interfaith initiatives are commonplace but as far as we know, this was a unique project, attracting support from many quarters, including B’nai B’rith International and The Vatican. Notably, the Pope himself wrote offering his prayers and good wishes.

Oporto’s Catholic body has an enviably rich history. It can trace itself back to the sixth century, has an imposing Episcopal Palace which is a visible landmark, while the Diocese comprises about two million people. By contrast, the Jewish community consists of roughly 400 members – albeit with the striking Kadoori Mekor Haim synagogue, being the largest in the Iberian peninsular.

Noting the disquiet in Europe, some members of the Jewish community wondered whether the Catholic community would join with them in combatting this new iteration of anti-Semitism.  But this was not to be through sermons or discussions in an echo chamber, but by participating in a ground-breaking interfaith project.  We may have different rites, rituals, and language, but one point of commonality is that we both have faith, the faith in a Power greater than ourselves. And this was a spark which generated the idea for this project.

Our project stemmed from a friendship and collaboration protocol, signed in 2018, between our two communities. While that delivered a closer understanding, we were also keen to capitalise on the growing relationship and over a period of months agreed on a series of initiatives that would help some of the most vulnerable in the wider community in and around Oporto. We will be actively working together to help the elderly, the sick and children contributing to a range of charities which have these key groups as beneficiaries.

This is a chance also to celebrate the richness of our distinct religious and cultural heritage, make a break with the divisions of the past and look ahead together to a more tolerant and supportive society. As a first step, we have produced a programme of four films, that bring to light some little known acts of kindness and religious tolerance as well as giving a historical account of the history of Jews in Oporto from the Middle Ages to the modern day.  All the proceeds generated from the films will be donated to our selected charities.

With so much attention and concern expressed over the resurgence of anti-Semitism across the world, we want this collaboration to stand as a beacon of hope for others and a re-awakening of Jewish life in Oporto and beyond.

This initiative has caused us to join in friendship to celebrate each other’s differences and collaborate to help those less fortunate than ourselves. For in doing so not only do we banish anti-Semitism, but unite in acts of lovingkindness and justice. This is the history we are now writing, together.

Original source: The Tablet