Franciscan University hosts Catholic-Jewish relations conference

By Emma Davis
Staff Writer

Dozens of Christian and Jewish thinkers gathered at Franciscan University from Oct. 24 to Oct. 26 to discuss the Catholic declaration “Nostra Aetate” and Catholic-Jewish relations amid a time of antisemitism.

Stephen Hildebrand, vice president for academic affairs at Franciscan University, and the Rev. Malachi Van Tassell began the conference with opening remarks centered on Franciscan’s response to the conflict in Israel.

According to a press release from the university, after the conflict in Israel began on Oct. 7, the Rev. Dave Pivonka, T.O.R., president of Franciscan University, announced that the university would expedite the college transfer process for Jewish students who face antisemitic discrimination, violence or prejudice on college campuses.

“Unfortunately, the hatred exhibited on Oct. 7 in the Holy Land was not limited to there,” Van Tassell said. “Even in this day and age, antisemitic events took place in Europe and, disgracefully, on American college campuses.”

Antisemitism is defined by Oxford Languages as a prejudice to or hostility against Jewish people.

Hildebrand added, “The antisemites cannot win because the God of the Hebrews, the maker of heaven and Earth, cannot lose.”

Robert Nicholson, president and executive director of the Philos Project, a nonprofit organization promoting Christian relations in the Middle East, spoke on his journey to finding Christ through Judaism.

“I discovered this God … and, oddly enough, had that encounter in a synagogue,” Nicholson said.

“The (Catholic) Church is grafted into Israel,” Nicholson said. “We are connected to God through Israel.”

Nicholson then discussed the rights of not only the Jewish people but every community of people.

“At the end of the day, this people is a people, and every people has a right to live in their homeland, safely and securely,” Nicholson said.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was international writer and lecturer Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, who holds a doctorate in religion from Princeton University. Soloveichik began his speech by telling a story about Don Gaetano Tantalo, a Catholic priest who hid a Jewish family for nine months during World War II.

“‘He (Tantalo) not only saved seven Jews from deportation and murder, but manifested deep respect for their religious identity, and went out of his way to enable them to perform the Jewish rituals,’” Soloveichik quoted from

Soloveichik went on to discuss his views on the meaning of antisemitism, saying it grows from resentment because of the Jews’ closeness with God.

Soloveichik then talked about the importance of Israel in the world today and why it embodies the Jewish impact on history.

“You cannot battle antisemitism without understanding how it is reflected, first and foremost today, in hatred of Israel,” Soloveichik added.

“Israel is a modern democratic marvel, but it is a simultaneously enduring reminder of the mystery that is the endurance of the Jewish people,” Soloveichik said. “That is the essence of its success, but this is precisely why it is hated.”

Soloveichik was one of several speakers who presented over the conference’s three days. The conference was hosted in the Gentile Gallery for registered attendees and was livestreamed for those who could not attend in-person.