Relationships between Roman Catholics and Jews, reeling from the stormiest year in the last quarter century, can count on "more shocks" in the months ahead.
But leaders from both groups, in a meeting here this week, agreed that painful as the events of this summer were, the resulting dialogue has strengthened understanding between the two groups.
"The miracle . . . may be that the lines of dialogue and the close bonds developed through dialogue over the last decades on the local level . . . not only remained firm but may have been strengthened," said Eugene Fisher, Catholic-Jewish relations expert for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Fisher, addressing a unit of the American Jewish Committee meeting here this week, reviewed some of the flash points that raised tensions between the two communities during the year:The establishment of a convent of Polish nuns in the shadow of the Auschwitz concentration camp where millions of Jews died.
The canonization of Edith Stein, a Jewish philosopher who was executed by the Nazis after she converted to Catholicism and became a nun.
Pope John Paul II's meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, accused of World War II atrocities against Jews.
"All three actions touched on the Holocaust and thus on a memory sacred to the Jewish people today," Fisher said. "Jewish nerves, rubbed raw by centuries of persecution . . . cried out with sincere anguish."
Stung by the vigor of the Jewish reaction, Catholics in turn felt themselves and their religion under attack. "In the face of stinging columns and full-page newspaper ads attacking the papacy, we Catholics felt ourselves to be David without a slingshot up against a very angry Goliath," said Fisher, who repeatedly blamed the media for exacerbating tensions.
One event in the future sure to cause more problems, leaders from both sides of the dialogue agreed, is the pope's visit, scheduled for next summer, to Austria, where he is expected to pay a call on Waldheim.
Fisher advised the Jewish leaders worried about that event to contact Catholic leaders in their home communities and "sit down with them and draft a letter expressing your concern" to Archbishop Pio Laghi, the Vatican's representative in this country.
"If that was coming from a lot of Catholic-Jewish dialogues across the country, it might be very helpful," said Fisher, and would be more constructive than "waiting until the pope goes to Austria and then yell."
Serious Catholic-Jewish dialogue has been under way only since the Second Vatican Council 25 years ago decreed that Jews should not be blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus and that Catholics should not attempt to convert Jews to Christianity.
Fisher rejected Jewish speculation that the present conservative pope, tightening church doctrine on a number of fronts, might be preparing to reverse the actions of Vatican II on the Jews. The actions of Vatican II are "the church doctrine on Jews" and are "irreversible," he said.
"The statement of the council," he added, is "part of what we are circling our wagons around."