Case study

Holy See: Promoting dialogue with Judaism

Our Ambassador Sally Axworthy reflects on the work of Sister Clare Jardine in celebration of International Women's Day.

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HM Ambassador Sally Axworthy meets Sr Clare Jardine

Sister Clare Jardine is General Councillor of the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion.

Clare started her career as a teacher working with children with severe learning difficulties in Sheffield. Feeling something was missing from her life, she went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and, through a meeting with some evangelical Christians, made a deep commitment to God. Immediately the idea of the religious life came to her and returning to the UK, she started visiting the Sisters of Lady of Sion. Her parents, worried at her frequent visits to the sisters, confronted her. When she told them that she was thinking of joining the community, they were somewhat surprised! Clare felt at home with the sisters and subsequently joined them. After studying theology, she went to Israel for a year, then studied Judaism at Leo Baeck rabbinical College before working at the Congregation’s centre for Dialogue and Encounter in London.

Sister Clare’s order has a charism (a gift of the Holy Spirit) of the conviction of God’s love for the Jewish people. Their founder, Theodore Ratisbonne, was from a Jewish family in Strasbourg. He met Louise Humann, an educator, and influenced by her became a Christian and a priest. He wanted his fellow Jews to follow the same path that he had, so opened a catechumenate,for children whose parents wanted themt o be educated as Christians. He prayed for a sign that he was following God’s will and this, came in the form of an experience of Mary that his brother Alphonse had, in Rome. Theodore gathered a group of women around him to help in his work and this in time became a congregation of sisters who would pray for the conversion of the Jews. He opened schools for girls in Istanbul, London, Jerusalem and Tunisia, including children of all faiths to help them understand each other. The order has schools now - in France, Brazil and Costa Rica.

At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church re-thought its relationship with Judaism and this resulted in the document Nostra Aetate. Sister Clare says that Christian theology was partly to blame for the Holocaust. The sisters would no longer pray for the conversion of Jews. The congregation re-wrote its constitution.

The congregation now has a three-fold commitment - to the Church, the Jewish people and to build a world of justice, peace and love. The Sisters promote Jewish-Christian dialogue, for example through the study of Biblical texts. Judaism, says Sister Clare, is part of the Christian identity: it is important to understand it.

Sister Clare says that her congregation is discerning its priorities and where they should be now. She says that Pope Francis’s message is very powerful: they should go to the peripheries. But wherever they go one thing is certain: the sisters will continue to use their knowledge of Judaism to promote understanding among Christians and cooperation between the two religions.

Published 11 March 2017