Cardinal Sepe presents "DireNapoli" at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York

Chronicle of the second day of Cardinal Sepe's visit to New York (January 18)

(26 January 2011)

8:00-9:30 AM

Cardinal Sepe visited Park East Synagogue today for a breakfast. The synagogue is run by Rabbi Arthur Schneier. It is an institution in New York, a city in which the Jewish community, in its many variants, amounts to almost 2 Million people.

Around a set table, with American and Italian flags and a typical “Jewish” breakfast, met Cardinal Sepe and some of the most important leaders of the Jewish community in New York, from Rabbi Schneier to David Marwell, Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, David Michaels, Director of the Bnai Berith movement, Jack Rosen, Vice-President of the American Council for World Jewry, and Maurizio Molinari, correspondent of La Stampa and active member of the synagogue and Jewish life in New York.

Rabbi Schneier began the event by exchanging the hospitality that Cardinal Sepe had showed in Sant'Egidio in November 2007, and speaking about the part of the Torah about this week (parashà) about the ten commandments, the common ethical foundations of both religions. The Rabbi also recalled the visit of Benedict XVI at Park East Synagogue, first papal visit to an American synagogue, as well as his visit to the Tempio Maggiore in Rome during the encounter between Rav DiSegni and Benedict XVI in January 2010.

The Cardinal also expressed his pleasure and honor for this hospitality and recalled the 2007 event, underlining the will of the Church to continue in the spirit of John Paul II's Nostra Aetate. “When you meet, you speak and learn to respect one another” he told his colleagues at the table. “After the meeting in 2007 I created a Jewish-Christian committee in Naples and we meet three times a year to deepen the knowledge about the topics we decide to discuss. We hope to build a synagogue in Naples”.
The Cardinal also recalled how John Paul II called the Jews “older brothers” and Benedict XVI “the fathers of faith”.

Together with the New York Jewish community's love for Italy, the conversation regarded important political topics and the relationship between Catholic Church and the State of Israel, the resurgence of antisemitism and the Holocaust. The Cardinal explained the Church's interest towards Israel from a spiritual, cultural and social point of view, their diplomatic relations, and underlined the common values such as family, which link the two people. He also recalled how during the Holocaust, while studying in a seminary, he was prohibited to go to the top floor, where the Jews were hidden during the persecutions, protected by the Church. He also reminded everyone that on January 27, Remembrance Day is celebrated in Italy.
In fact, even in New York Rabbi Schneier takes part in this event, during which all the names of the deported Italian Jews are read in front of the Italian Consulate on Park Avenue. “The Church's position of antisemitism is very strong today”. Sepe said that “for a Christian antisemitism is a sin. Perhaps the Church could do more but it surely pushes towards peace and dialogue. Also the media like Radio Vaticana or the Osservatore Romano help information regarding Israel”. “Whoever denies the Holocaust is a crazy splinter and I condemn it completely.”

The breakfast ended with the Rabbi delivering a wine cup, which Jews use for the kiddush rite, the benediction of the wine, reminding how both religions use wine in their rites and how being seated at a table, sharing food and drink, is a moment of total humanity and solidarity.

10 AM – 12:30 PM

This morning, after a brief meeting with Ambassador Carlo Maria Ragaglini at the Permanent Mission of Italy at the United Nations, closed to the press, Cardinal Sepe visited the Permanent Mission of the Holy See.

There he met Apostolic Nuncio Mons. Francis Assisi Chullikat, appointed permanent Observer last July by Pope Benedict XVI.

Sepe had the opportunity of celebrating Mass on the first floor of the building, in a “bell” room distinguished by its floor, decorated with an exquisite composition of hand-painted majolica tiles representing flowers and the Vatican insignia, crafted by artisans from Salerno.

The function, in English, was very moving and brief. Before the homily the Nuncio thanked Sepe for his visit, and said he would help strengthening relations between Naples and New York. Chullikat also reminded of the work of the Neapolitan people, expressed in the social and professional results of the descendants of the Neapolitan immigrants.

His Eminence gave a brief speech in Italian, off the cuff, regarding the themes of courage and hope, also regarding the present situation of Naples.

Sepe underlined how it is equally important to “not obscure what is missing [there are things missing in Naples] but also not to give up” and he insisted upon the need for “total collaboration, for everyone is responsible, to obtain something better and take back our dignity”.

During the meeting, the Cardinal also found time to speak to the press and expressed how important inter-religious dialogue is, underlining how he strongly believes in the deep friendship between Catholics and Jews, which he experimented first hand.

He was also asked questions about politics and other news items, among which if he thought that institutions hadn't done enough for Naples in the past, to which he answered that he didn't have the competence to answer such a question, but that his personal feeling was that something more could have been done. He also skillfully avoided questions about Prime Minister Berlusconi's latest scandals: “What do you think about what L'Avvenire published about Berlusconi?” “I wouldn't know” he answered. “I'm in New York and can't read L'Avvenire”.

January 18, 1-2:30 pm

Today's lunch saw the presence of many representatives of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, the association founded by Rabbi Schneier in 1965 which aims to defend religious freedom. The topic was “Inter-religious action in a changing world”. Apart from religious differences, the unanimous opinion expressed is that the only way to save civilization is learning to co-exist peacefully and respectfully. The event took place in a warm and welcoming atmosphere of exchange, within the Lotus Club, where, during the lunch, topics were introduced also regarding relations between Church and State, the importance of defending sacred places and religious minorities, as well as “globalization with a human face” as Sepe defined it during his speech. “Human beings must be at the center of our own preoccupations, must be an end, not a mean” echoed Schneier.

He also recalled the meeting in Naples in October 2007 entitled For a world without violence, religion and culture in dialogue, narrating the final evening in which all kinds of children marched together towards the future.

The participants, seated on three tables, were about thirty, representing diplomacy and industry of the Jewish community, of the Armenian community and of the Greek Orthodox community. Among them the Italian Ambassador in Washington Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata, who came in on purpose from Washington for the Cardinal's visit, the Archbishop Khajag Barasmian, Primate of the American Diocese of the Armenian church; Father Mark Arey, of the Archdiocese of the Greek Orthodox Church; Mr. John Catsimatidis, President, Chairman and Administrator of the Red Apple Group.

And in a constructive and proposing atmosphere the Cardinal reflected upon the necessity of shaking consciences and setting the example to encourage men of good will, the righteous of every race, religion and culture to join forces in reorganizing hope on Earth and building a different world, finally free from all conflicts.”

Appetizers were made of goat cheese and beets, followed by baked salmon with herbs, potatoes and fennel, marking the Rabbi's welcoming which couldn't have been more impeccable also at the table. And at the end of the meal Sepe added that he would love to host the Rabbi in his own city, where there is no absence of fish.

5:30-7:30 pm

In the afternoon the Cardinal went to the Italian Cultural Institute of New York to present the initiative “DireNapoli” and close the exhibit of Neapolitan crèche art strongly wanted by the Archdiocese of Naples as an announcement and accompaniment to the trip. Before entering a full house of guests and journalists, the Cardinal carefully examined the statuettes on view and placed upon large traveling cases. Present for the occasion, together with two artisans, also the curator of the exhibit Prof. Filomena Maria Sardella, of the Direction of Cultural Heritage of the Campania Region.

After having moved to the conference hall, host Prof. Riccardo Viale introduced the guests and underlined the Cardinal's work from a social point of view in difficult times.

The Italian Ambassador in Washington Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata welcomed him personally at the entrance of the Institute, and told the public about how he had also been present for the morning meeting on inter-religious dialogue at the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. “It was a particularly meaningful meeting”, he said. “This is a journey that confirms the strength of Italian-American relations.”

Cardinal Sepe, who expressed his emotion for the welcoming, began his speech with words of hope: “New York like Naples, New Polis, New City, in the name of a wish to live together.” Hope that doesn't exclude graver problems, but that places itself as a concrete prospective of redemption: “I want to bring my city to an international stage in a difficult moment”, he said, “I want to tell Naples in front of the many difficulties... we must show how the south is capable of redemption, we must tell Naples in a different way”, His Eminence underlined, reminding about the many excellences from Naples in the fields of the arts, culture, humanities and sciences.

Two crucial points in the Cardinal's speech: a criticism of globalization intended as standardization of merchandise, services and lifestyle, negating the peculiar social, economic and human structure of Naples, and a great attention to the younger generations and the problem of unemployment, towards which the Church is strongly engaged also with initiatives of micro credits. “Redemption is possible” was the main point of his speech, at some points very impassioned.

The debate was opened and led by Monseigneur Gennaro Matino, Moderator of the Church of Naples, who is accompanying the Cardinal along his trip.

The questions regarded several different topics, beginning with the problem of human migrations and their social effects: “Naples and its province welcome 80,000 immigrants, from Romania, China and many other countries” reminded Sepe. “The Neapolitans are very open, also if there are negative moments. We must try to integrate as much as possible. We are also working for this, facing many difficulties”.

To those asking him to point fingers in regard to the situation in Naples today, the Cardinal answered: “I don't judge anyone, I should judge myself first of all; my job is different, it is to 'help my people up'.” And he remembered the “Neapolitan Jubilee” launched last December. “A year of new hope, to open ourselves to hope, to give hope; inaugurate a new season.”

The rebirth of Naples is possible, the Cardinal underlined many times, “and rebirth of Naples means rebirth of the South and rebirth of the whole country.”
He also referred to a debate that was issued to Sepe's comment from the previous day, which had been transcribed in an untruthful manner by press agencies. “I haven't 'absolved' anyone” he declared. “And, anyhow, I haven't come to New York to speak about Berlusconi but about Naples”.

7:30-9 PM

A welcoming concert, attended by illustrious members of the Italian and Italian-American communities took place in the evening in one of the most typical Catholic houses of worship in the Upper East Side; the church of Saint Jean Baptiste, at Lexington and 76th Street.

The event was organized by Steven Acunto, president of the Italian Academy Foundation, in collaboration with Joseph Sciame, president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian Americans Organizations, and with Lucio Caputo, President of the American Society of the Italian Legions of Merit.

The Italian Academy Foundation, created in 1947, aims to act as cultural mediator and to present Italian realities to the American public; the American Society of the Italian Legions of Merit, founded in 1965, is the main reference point in the United States for those who wish to be prized or honored by the President of the Republic; the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations is the group that collects the leaders of almost 50 Italian-American organizations.

The Cardinal was saluted warmly by host Father Anthony Schuller, organizers Steven Acunto, Joseph Sciame and Lucio Caputo. Also present were Consul General Francesco Maria Talò and Reverend F. Robert Aufieri.

During the evening the Cardinal received a prize for his pastoral activity in the city of Naples. Recognition also came for having contributed to communicate the reality of Naples in a creative and unusual manner. “It is a recognition which I accept with pride and emotion because it is given by my people, my Church, and the many men and women of good will that day after day make an effort to re-organize hope, as John Paul II wanted. Our city needs to recover in its roots, history, culture and tradition, its authentic values for telling Naples in a new way.” said Sepe, moved.

He also announced a prize for those representing Naples in its richness of contradictions and great resources. The prize will be given to Italian-American director John Turturro for his film Passione which represents his personal and strongly appreciated tribute to Naples.