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cardinal-rabbi-webCardinal William Keeler, archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore, shakes hands with Alan Respler, executive director Emeritus of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey  May 14, at Congregation Beth El, Voorhes, where the churchman was honored for his contributions to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

VOORHEES — Cardinal William Henry Keeler, Archbishop Emeritus of the Baltimore Archdiocese and champion of interfaith dialogue, received the Catholic-Jewish Commission of Southern New Jersey’s Nostra Aetate Award on Thursday, May 14, at Congregation Beth El here.

Rabbi Eugene Korn, the North American director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding and Cooperation, was a co-honoree with Cardinal Keeler.

“Keeler is truly one of the great pioneers in Jewish-Christian relations,” remarked Rabbi Korn.  “He’s a true friend of the Jewish community.”

At the podium, Cardinal Keeler reflected on his time spent with Pope John Paul II, and spoke of the importance of interfaith relations.

“It’s hard to say what this particular award means, but my whole life has been compassion for getting people close to one another. I think that what we need to do is work harder to help people recognize that differences on the outside do not make differences in the heart.”

Nostra Aetate, Latin for “In Our Time,” is a document that was promulgated by the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 28, 1965.  Also called the “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” the document stated that the Catholic Church rejects anti-Semitism, rejects nothing that is holy and true in non-Christian religions, and said any discrimination based on race, color, religion or condition of life is foreign to the mind of Christ.

Cardinal Keeler was born in San Antonio, Texas, but moved with his family to Lebanon, Pa. at an early age. After entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pa., he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Harrisburg on July 17, 1955, and 22 years later, in 1979, he was named auxiliary bishop.

On Nov. 19, 1983, Pope John Paul II made Cardinal Keeler bishop of Harrisburg; in 1989, he was named archbishop of Baltimore, the oldest diocese in the country.

In 1992, he was the elected president of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Cardinal Keeler is known throughout the Jewish and Catholic communities for fostering strong interfaith bonds between the two religions.  From 1984-87, he was chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In this role, he was instrumental in organizing Pope John Paul II’s audiences with Jewish leaders in Miami, Protestant leaders in South Carolina, and other groups.

On Nov. 26, 1994, he became a cardinal. In July 2007, he resigned as archbishop of Baltimore.

Currently, Cardinal Keeler serves as moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations for United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Father Joseph D. Wallace, Camden Diocese coordinator for the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, noted that the Catholic-Jewish Commission has long wanted to honor Cardinal Keeler.

“It’s a very important day, because he has constantly fostered good relationships between Jews and Catholics, and we’re just so honored and happy to have him, and be able to honor him in some small way.”

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