This year we celebrate Israel's 60th birthday, an historic milestone for the Jewish people. Just a few years ago we celebrated another milestone for the Jewish people – the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate - the most significant document concerning Jewish-Christian relations in church history.
On October 28, 1965, Nostra Aetate was overwhelmingly adopted by the world's bishops and cardinals. It condemned anti-Semitism, repudiated the deicide charge against all Jews for all time, and called for a new and respectful dialogue between our two intricately-tied ancient religions.
Since then, we have engaged in an important and robust dialogue with the church. Indeed, the Catholic-Jewish relationship remains strong and vital today. One who has shared a primary role in this is Cardinal William Henry Keeler.
Cardinal Keeler has been at the epicenter of Catholic-Jewish relations since the historic changes brought about during the Second Vatican Council and the adoption of Nostra Aetate. As a young priest, Father Keeler was appointed a Special Advisor to Pope John XXIII at the Second Vatican Council. But that was just the beginning.
For the past 44 years, Cardinal Keeler has been instrumental in building and deepening the new positive relationship between Catholics and Jews in the United States and around the world. In that role, he has also become a true and valued friend, someone I could trust and turn to in moments of tension or controversy, moments which sometimes threatened to disrupt the Catholic-Jewish relationship.
One such moment occurred in 1987, when Pope John Paul II's long planned meeting in Miami with American Jewish leaders appeared to be doomed because the Pope, in a highly controversial action, had received the Austrian President Kurt Waldheim at the Vatican.
Many Jews were angry and upset at this recognition afforded a politician with a long-hidden connection to the Third Reich. It looked as if the Miami meeting might be canceled. A feeling of pessimism hung over Catholic-Jewish relations. But like a breath of fresh air, the then Bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Bishop Keeler, went straight to work.
He assembled a select group of Jewish and Catholic leaders and brought them to the Pope's summer residence outside Rome. Using his unique diplomatic and pastoral skills, he helped resolve the controversy and the Miami meeting was back on. The Miami meeting, in which I was privileged to participate, turned out to be an historic turning point for the Pope and a victory for Bishop Keeler and Catholic–Jewish relations.
In the 1990s, Cardinal Keeler again deployed his unique diplomatic and leadership skills and played a major role in successfully resolving the bitter crisis over a nun's convent located at the Auschwitz death camp. He also played a key role in achieving full and formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel in 1994.
I can happily report that 21 years later and only a few weeks ago, Cardinal Keeler did it again. He was instrumental in resolving another potentially problematic issue of Jewish-Catholic concern. Through quiet and productive dialogue, he helped avoid a misunderstanding, and helped strengthen the bonds of our friendship.
These are just some of the achievements of William Keeler, only the third Cardinal in the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the oldest diocese in the country. He is also been a great champion of holocaust education in catholic schools and a persistent foe of all forms of anti-Semitism.
He has held the highest public positions in American Jewish-Catholic relations. He was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and continues to serve as the Conference's moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations.
But I strongly believe Cardinal Keeler's greatest accomplishments in Catholic-Jewish relations have taken place away from the public stage and media glare, usually in the privacy of his office on Charles Street in Baltimore. For us, no matter the difficulty of the issue, he is always just a phone call away.
He is truly a world leader in building human bridges of respect and understanding between our two faith communities. And that is why we are pleased to honor William Cardinal Keeler today with ADL's Cardinal Bea Interfaith Award.
I will read the words on the award that only hint at the extraordinary achievements of my friend, and the Jewish people's friend, Cardinal William H. Keeler.
The award reads: ADL Cardinal Bea Award presented to William Cardinal Keeler in appreciation for your distinguished service in promoting positive relations between the Jewish and Catholic communities and for fostering mutual understanding between faiths.