But there it was, Father Guiseppe, a Catholic priest, was offering me an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel for a conference of rabbis, bishops, cardinals and priests. When I asked what he wanted in return, his response was: "Nothing, we recognize that Christianity has its roots in the Jewish faith and we therefore want dialogue with rabbis. This trip and conference is simply a gesture of love from us to you."
Although I was deeply skeptical, his sincerity coupled with my constant desire to visit the Holy Land would not allow me to reject his offer.
So last week I traveled to Israel for a historic meeting, organized by the Catholic Church's Neocatechumenal Way, of Jewish religious leaders, from Reform to ultra-Orthodox, with leaders of the Catholic Church at Domus Galilaeae on the shores of Lake Kinneret. We ate, prayed, danced, and dialoged together for three days.
From this gathering it became apparent that there are large elements within the contemporary Catholic Church that have real love and admiration for the Jewish people. As I sat at the conference, it became apparent that although the Neocatechumenal Way stated that they wanted to learn from us, the learning ought to go both ways.
The old prejudices Catholics had towards Jews were broken 50 years ago with Nostre Aetate of the Second Vatican Council which eschewed and rejected any form of anti-Semitism and, in part, declared that "the Church cannot forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree (Judaism) onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles." If this newfound understanding by Catholics of their relationship with Judaism does not bring us together, perhaps a common threat should.
Beyond the common threat of radical Islam, all religions in the West are facing the challenges posed by secularism, atheism, social media and the ubiquity of knowledge thanks to the Internet. Based on last year's Pew research study, Judaism is threatened by these forces perhaps to a larger degree than other religions.
Whilst after centuries of persecution our suspicion of Catholics is hard to overcome, we cannot allow old animosities to hold us back from seizing new opportunities. In the final analysis there is lots that we can learn from each other on how to confront, and hopefully overcome, the common challenges we face.
This does not mean, God forbid, that we should try and mimic other religions. That was a mistake Reform Judaism made more than 100 years ago when they changed the layout of the synagogue and brought in the organ in an effort to ape Protestant churches. Nonetheless, in terms of the general sense of offering spirituality, faith and meaning many religions have much in common.
How these religious ideals can be compellingly presented in a secular society in the Internet age is the difficulty we all face. What works for one religion might possibly be adapted to work for others as well. In this sense, the openness of the Catholic Church towards Jews and Judaism offers us new opportunities for dialogue that can be truly worthwhile and bear significant fruit for the continuity and renewal of both faith communities.
The Neocatechumenal Way headed by Kiko Argüello is one of the forces within the Catholic Church that has had success in engaging lapsed Catholics and bringing them closer to their faith. They believe that some of their success has come about because of the ideas and practices that they have borrowed from Judaism. This conference offered them an opportunity to deepen that knowledge and bond with Judaism. Perhaps what they have learned from our tradition we need to relearn as well.
Whatever the case may be, this historic event moved us further away from a dialogue of competition, evangelizing and dogma and towards a dialogue of learning from each other in an atmosphere of respect and love. This signals the beginning of new, deeply positive chapter in interfaith dialogue as well as in our relationship with the Catholic Church.
No doubt there will be resistance to this new level of common dialogue and learning, but as this blossoms, as I hope it will, not only will Jews and Catholics be the beneficiaries – humanity as a whole will be better off.
Levi Brackman is founder of Purposes Inc and creator of a scientifically proven online purpose finding tool Next Stage Purpose . He is currently doing a PhD focused on learning how people can develop purpose and meaning in life. He is also a rabbi and best-selling author.