An Ecumenical Surprise: Building Bridges between Catholics and Jews


Editor’s note: We are pleased today to share a guest article by Marta M. Gómez-Cortés. Enjoy! Lisa

Image courtesy of Marta Maria Gomez-Cortes

Image courtesy of Marta Maria Gomez-Cortes

Some years ago I found myself, a Cuban-American cradle Catholic, sitting in my Hebrew II class at Gratz College in Philadelphia. I was determined to find my Jewish roots from Conversos (the 15th c. Jewish converts from Spain). I had immersed myself into everything Jewish, and learning Conversational Hebrew was one of my goals. Right there before my eyes in my Hebrew textbook (Band, Ora. Hebrew: Level 2) was this story that I will try to paraphrase in English as I remember it:

A young boy was having a bar-mitzvah. After the ceremony was over, the father, a quiet and soft-spoken man, decided to reveal to his son, now a Son of the Commandment, some of his background. He started by telling him that he had been a jeweler’s apprentice during World War II in Poland. One morning a young priest stepped into the shop with a request. He wanted a silver cross with gems fixed into it. At first the lad refused the request, but finally gave in. The following day, while working on the cross, two Nazis appeared at the door. The boy raised the cross and the Nazis left the shop immediately. When the cross was finished he went to deliver it. After being paid, the priest told him in an alarming tone that it was very dangerous for him outside and that he shouldn’t leave the church that night. He made him follow him to a cellar where other young Jewish boys and girls were singing Psalms unto the Lord. Eventually, the priest got him a safe conduct and he escaped from Poland.

After a pause in their conversation, the bar-mitzvad boy asked his dad if he had ever met the priest again to thank him, and if he remembered his name. To this the father answered that he had never met him again but recently, while looking at the paper he thought he recognized him. His name was John Paul II and he happened to be the Pope.

While the story was being read in class, I got goosebumps. To think that the power of the cross had saved this boy’s life, and neither he nor my Jewish classmates were aware of it! Tears welled up in my eyes. I never thought that I would encounter such story in a Hebrew textbook. What a surprise! We Catholics are not familiar with this anecdote of John Paul II. I was so moved that amidst my tears I uttered out loud, “I can’t believe this. Thank you so much..!” I felt such gratitude that I wanted to give something back.

The following week was my turn to bring in an oral assignment. I went to class prepared. Since I wasn’t that familiar with the language, I read my small paragraph which read like this:

“I have a present (matanah) for you. It is not silver nor gold. But it is better than silver and gold because it speaks about friendship and solidarity and good will.”

Then I proceeded to give out handouts of excerpts from the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate” on Catholic guidelines about how our behavior should show kindness and gratitude towards our Jewish brothers. This was my present for them. This, too, was news to them and they thanked me heartily.

As time elapsed and I produced signs of being Jewish descent on my maternal lineage, I was invited to join the Sinai Covenant (Jewish community) by a Sephardic rabbi. My love and conviction of Yeshua (Jesus) as the true Messiah was too strong in me to abandon Him, so instead of converting to Judaism, I vowed to myself to be a better Catholic and assured the rabbi of my intention to become a bridge between Catholics and Jews until death.

Ever since then, I have had plenty of opportunities to engage in uplifting dialogue with my Jewish brethren while telling the Lord, “Hineni, Adonai” (Here I am, Lord) Use me.


Marta M. Gómez-Cortés is a retired woman, mother of seven and grandmother of sixteen. She currently lives in MIami, Florida, close to her Cuban roots. Marta holds a Master’s degree in Catholic Systematic Theology from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Phila., PA. Her inquisitive mind helped her find some of her ancestry among the Jews of Spain, the Conversos. She spent many years in the teaching profession and counseling Latino students at La Salle University in Philadelphia. She is also fluent in several languages. Presently, Marta spends much of her time studying, reading, preparing for future courses in Catechetics, and researching comparative religious issues between Church and synagogue. This is her first article.

Copyright 2015 Marta M. Gómez-Cortés



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