WASHINGTON (CNS) — Bill Bayly, a history and religion teacher at St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, Md., said the future for Catholic and Jewish relations is bright.

Bayly was one of 40 Catholic school educators from 24 states who gathered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum July 24 to learn about the history of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the historical relationship between Jewish and Catholic communities.


The event was part of the Anti-Defamation League’s 18th annual Bearing Witness program, a five-day series of lectures, seminars and workshops designed to give Catholic school educators knowledge, skills and resources to teach about the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in their classrooms.

Participants were chosen from an applicant pool of more than 120 people based on their answers to a series of questions about their interest in the topic and what they hope to do with it in their classrooms. Ten people came from the area covered by ADL’s Washington-based regional office, which includes Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and North Carolina.

ADL was founded 100 years ago, in 1913, with a two-part mission: To stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to address justice and fair treatment of all, Naomi Mayor, the league’s assistant director of training and curriculum, told the Catholic News Service.

ADL also strives protect civil rights, investigate and monitor extremist groups and educate others about the dangers of prejudice and stereotyping.

“The founders recognize that in order to protect the rights of the Jewish community, we have to look out for all people and all minority groups,” Mayor said. “One group is not safe unless we’re all safe.”

Mayor said that part of what makes the Bearing Witness program so special is its partnerships. The organization works closely with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Catholic Educational Association, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the program for Jewish civilization at Jesuit-run Georgetown University, as well as the Washington Archdiocese and dioceses across the nation.

“We develop the curriculum together, which not only allows us to address issues using our own unique expertise and organizations, but also to discuss very difficult and very sensitive issues in a safe space,” Mayor said.

On the first night of the program, participants are given an overview of anti-Semitism throughout history. Mayor said that while it is important to think about the Holocaust as a chapter in the book of history of anti-Semitism, there is much more to the story. Anti-Semitism didn’t begin or end with the Holocaust, and it still exists today.

“It’s a long and painful history,” Mayor said. “All too often throughout our history the relationship between Catholics and Jews has not been positive. Over the last 50 years since Vatican II and ‘Nostra Aetate’ we have been able to forge a new relationship, taking a painful history and a difficult history and turning it into an opportunity for dialogue and collaboration.”

“Nostra Aetate” is the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with non-Christian religions.

As part of the ADL program’s schedule July 24, participants were invited to review the Holocaust Museum’s new “Some Were Neighbors” exhibit, highlighting the millions of ordinary people who witnessed the crimes of the Holocaust and collaborated with the Nazis or were complicit in their crimes rather than taking a stand against injustice.

“The biggest challenge when teaching about the Holocaust is making it relevant to students’ lives, and that’s what I love about the ‘Some were Neighbors’ exhibit,” said Lori D’Argenio a sixth- through eighth-grade social studies teacher at Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Southern Pines, N.C.

“I think it really shows how the Holocaust affected normal, everyday people. My students are mostly Catholics … but they can relate to the idea of being a bystander or an onlooker, that’s something relative to them.”

After viewing the exhibit, participants held an open discussion, something David Tonnis, a sixth- through eighth-grade social studies teacher at St. Ursula Academy in Cincinnati, finds vital to the program.

“I think dialogue is important to really understand the heart of a subject, bringing different perspectives and ideas from different backgrounds together to really get to the core of an issue,” Tonnis said.

The day’s schedule also included a testimony from Holocaust survivor Halina Peabody, a lecture about Nazi radical ideology from senior historian Peter Black, and a seminar about the meaning of Israel to the Jews. Several educators said the program will change the way they teach about the Holocaust in their classrooms.

“As a religion teacher, I think the biggest thing that I want to do is restudy Scripture in a Jewish context, looking for resources that can provide a Jewish commentary that can help students understand according to what Pope John Paul II said that we should do,” said Kathleen Pryce, a sixth- through eighth-grade religion and English teacher at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Atlanta.

Pryce told CNS her personal theology places a strong emphasis on kindness.

“Religion is about how we treat each other. It’s not how many prayers you say or how many times you go to Mass, even though that’s part of the institution. It’s how you treat each other within the hallways, by the lockers, in everyday life.”