David Friedman, the Anti-Defamation League's Washington regional  director (at left), and Cardinal Donald Wuerl speak after the cardinal addressed about three dozen educators participating in the Bearing Witness program. The program provides Catholic school educators with training and resources so they can effectively teach their students about the relationship between Catholics and Jews.
David Friedman, the Anti-Defamation League's Washington regional director (at left), and Cardinal Donald Wuerl speak after the cardinal addressed about three dozen educators participating in the Bearing Witness program. The program provides Catholic school educators with training and resources so they can effectively teach their students about the relationship between Catholics and Jews.
Catholic school educators participating in a program to learn how to teach about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are contributing to "a deepening of mutual respect" between Catholics and Jews, Cardinal Donald Wuerl said July 25.

Addressing participants in the Bearing Witness program, Cardinal Wuerl told the educators that while "we may take for granted the good relations" between Catholics and Jews, such good relations require "constant attention."

The cardinal told educators that programs such as the Bearing Witness program help in "building, maintaining and regularly renewing the commitment of sustaining those relations" between Catholics and Jews.

"Nostra Aetate (The Second Vatican Council's declaration on the relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions) challenged Catholics all over the world to deny any form of anti-Semitism and foster relations between Catholic and Jews," Cardinal Wuerl said. "Since Vatican II, we have learned that if we meet together, talk together, work together, there will be a deepening of mutual respect."

More than three dozen Catholic school educators from the Archdiocese of Washington and other parts of the country gathered in Washington last week to participate in the Bearing Witness program. During nearly a week of professional development, the educators not only learned how to teach about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, but they also explored the history of anti-Semitism, Catholic teachings on Jews and Judaism, and contemporary issues of prejudice.

"Never underestimate the importance of a program like this," Cardinal Wuerl told the participants.

The Bearing Witness program was created in 1996 in a partnership between the Archdiocese of Washington and the Anti-Defamation League's Washington regional office. It provides Catholic school educators with training and resources so they can effectively teach their students about the relationship between Catholics and Jews.

In 2000, Bearing Witness was one of 15 programs across the country to receive recognition by the National Catholic Educational Association as a SPICE program (Selected Programs for Improving Catholic Education).

Over the years, the program has grown, and is now jointly sponsored by the archdiocese, the ADL, the NCEA, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University.

Participation in the program has also grown. Archdiocesan educators are now joined by their counterparts from Maryland, Texas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, Oregon, California, South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri, Louisiana, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts and Georgia. For five days, the educators meet in Washington to receive training and resources.

Over the past 17 years, Bearing Witness has trained more than 1,800 Catholic school educators nationwide, impacting more than 200,000 students across the country. The program is open to Catholic high school and middle teachers of history, religion, social studies, and English, as well as administrators and librarians.

"We need to have this conversation about a very serious subject," said seventh-grade teacher Nicole Praetorius of Arlington. "It's hard to ask - but we have to ask - 'what would we do if faced with this today?' "

For Antonio Cejas from Florida, the program "is important to me as an educator, father and husband to witness to what has occurred and make sure it doesn't happen again."

This year's program in Washington was held from July 21-26.

"There is no doubt in my mind or heart that there is a great need to do this," said David Friedman, the ADL's Washington, D.C., regional director. "We have to deliver this very powerful message and we have to bear witness to what has occurred."

Cardinal Wuerl, noting "how hungry teachers are" for the information presented in the Bearing Witness Program, urged participants to "continue your participation (in the program) and then carry back home - take back with you - the fruits of all your discussions."

Friedman, thanking Cardinal Wuerl for his "personal commitment" to the program, assured him that "we do not take for granted the clear and solid friendship we have."