"the focus of Skorka's lecture was the Latin American experience of Jewish/Catholic relations. (Argentina is somewhat unique in Latin America in that it has a sizeable Jewish community, estimated today at roughly 250,000.)
In the course of his talk, Skorka made a fascinating observation without really developing it, which was that while Jewish/Catholic exchanges in the West often pivot on the past -- the history of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and so on -- the focus in Latin America is more on the present.
Skorka noted that a 2004 meeting of the International Jewish Catholic Liaison Committee, one of the primary vehicles for dialogue at the global level, was held in Buenos Aires. Afterward, he said, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who held Koch's job at the time, said it had been "the first meeting not to focus on past issues but rather how to join forces to face the dramatic needs of the present and future."
In part, Skorka suggested, this focus reflected the climate in Argentina created by the economic crisis that erupted in the late 1990s, which caused widespread unemployment, riots and the collapse of the government, leaving half the country's population and 70 percent of its children in poverty.
"The crisis created a situation in which religious institutions were called upon to work together in a very deep way," Skorka said. "There was lots of coordinated work to help people in dire need."
"Something interesting happened" in the middle of the economic meltdown, he said.
"Society started to ask who can we really trust, and religious institutions came to the fore," Skorka said, adding that the situation induced religious leaders to develop "a tremendously pragmatic" form of dialogue.
For those who wonder if Jewish/Catholic relations can ever really escape the ghosts of history, in other words, perhaps voices from the developing world may have something to contribute.