RESURGENT anti-Semitism in the emerging democracies of East and Central Europe and concern that recent strides in top-level Jewish-Catholic relations have not reached the grass roots were dominant themes at a two-day conference here last week between international Jewish leaders and senior Vatican officials. On Thursday, Pope John Paul II endorsed the Sept. 6 Jewish-Catholic declaration in Prague that called anti-Semitism a sin. The pope called for Christian repentance for the historic persecution of the Jews and outlined a concrete action plan to fight anti-Semitism though education and closer inter-religious contacts.
``No dialogue between Christians and Jews can overlook the painful and terrible experience of the Shoah [Holocaust],'' the pope said. ``During the meeting in Prague in September ... the Jewish-Catholic International Liaison Committee considered at length the religious and historical dimensions of the Shoah and of anti-Semitism and came to conclusions that are of great importance of the continuation of our dialogue and cooperation....
``It is my hope that these [conclusions] may be widely recognized and that the recommendations then formulated will be implemented where human and religious rights are violated.''
The pope's action follows a surge in anti-Semitic incidents in Eastern Europe:
A spokesman for the Jewish community in Budapest said community leaders are inundated with hate mail and threatening letters.
A Budapest journalist, insisting that he is not an anti-Semite, describes a man as a ``typical Jew; you know, red-haired and not beautiful.''
In Poland, where only about 6,000 or 7,000 Jews remain of the 3.5 million who lived there before the Holocaust, vicious anti-Semitic graffiti have become part of the landscape.
``I don't like Jews,'' a student told the Warsaw Voice, an English-language weekly. ``I don't even know why - I don't and that's that. My parents brought me up that way.''
In the Slovakian city of Nitra, scrawled swastikas and slogans last month defaced the Jewish cemetery.
In Kosice, the secretary of the 900-member Jewish community says Slovak nationalists make them feel ``like aliens.''
``We cannot be unconcerned over signs that anti-Semitism has once again become political and populist currency in these countries,'' Seymour Reich, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultants (IJCIC), told the pope. ``We see a familiar and frightening pattern.''
Last week's conference between the IJCIC and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, marked the 25th anniversary of the landmark Nostra Aetate declaration by the Second Vatican Council, which opened the door to Jewish-Catholic dialogue.
Nostra Aetate removed the accusation that the Jews killed Christ, did away with the Roman Catholic concept of ``perfidious Jews,'' and ``deplored'' any manifestation of anti-Semitism, past, present, or future.
The pope's ``loud and clear'' confirmation ``envisages implementing concrete action programs designed to disseminate new Vatican teaching on Jews to grass-roots priests and laity,'' Mr. Reich says. The lack of understanding among ordinary Catholics and Jews was one of the primary concerns of last week's talks.
Recent surveys in Italy have pointed out that the majority of priests, including those providing religious education in schools, had little or no awareness of Nostra Aetate or other recent Vatican teachings on the Jews.
``The primary emphasis of the Rome session underscored the need for creating a joint mechanism at the grass-roots level and to disseminate these teaching[s] throughout the Catholic and Jewish world,'' a conference statement said.
Despite progress in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, Jewish leaders say they are disappointed that the Vatican refuses to recognize Israel. ``There can't be full normalization of relations between the Jewish and Catholic communities until the Vatican has full normal relations with Israel,'' Reich says.