Joseph Burg, who has held cabinet posts in the Israeli government, could agree that "we must stand together to fight atheism" while bearing in mind the enduring differences between the two religions.
"From my point of view, I have to believe my religion is the best one, it is the only one," Dr. Burg said. "Other people have the right to say the same."
That Christian and Jewish leaders could talk this way to each other is partly the fruit of talks between Catholics and Jews that began more than 20 years ago in meetings in Europe and the Middle East. Yesterday, those talks came to this hemisphere for the first time -- to St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park.
The four-day conference of the International Catholic-Jewish Committee, the chief means of discussion between the Roman Catholic Church and Jewish leaders of the world, has drawn about 60 delegates from several countries and the Vatican.
Talks last night by Cardinal Bernardin, Dr. Burg and others were attended by local Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy and lay leaders.
Archbishop William H. Keeler, of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said the group came here "because I invited them." He is the moderator of the U.S. Catholic-Jewish dialogue and has wide experience in Catholic-Jewish relations.
This is the 14th meeting since the international conversation started in Paris in 1971. It was a response to a document of the Second Vatican Council that called for an end to anti-Semitism and the replacement of offensive references to Jews in Catholic teaching texts and liturgy.
Previous meetings have covered Christian and Jewish images of each other, the challenge of secularism and the contributions of Christianity to the history of anti-Semitism.
Archbishop Keeler said the talks here would cover three broad areas: material for preparation of a Vatican document on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism; improving Catholic teaching about Jews and Jewish teaching about Catholics, and finding social and religious issues that the two faiths can promote together in various countries.
On this last goal, Cardinal Bernardin said collaboration was essential "or we will find ourselves surrounded by a new secular absolutism." He warned that it was an erosion of the religious foundations of German society that left an opening for the rise of Nazism and its campaign to exterminate the Jews.
But for inter-faith cooperation to take place in promoting a religious vision of respect for the environment, world peace and social justice, he said, the church must purge itself of any offensive stereotypes of Jews and Judaism.
Cardinal Bernardin urged a full investigation of the church's actions during World War II and the Holocaust.
Edgar Bronfman, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Affairs, said that collaboration between the two faiths would depend on the success of pluralism -- the peaceful co-existence of different religions, races and cultures within the same civic order. Three days of riots last week in Los Angeles prompted by the acquittal of white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King "demonstrated that we have a long way to come," he said.
Mr. Bronfman said the riots were "a presence" in these talks about how two different faiths can overcome age-old tensions.
"This is the disturbing thing about our society. When we talk about pluralism, we somehow exclude the blacks," he said. "Everybody has to be included. If we continue to be racist, we're asking for more Holocausts."
Another theme binding the goals of the conference was Catholic-Jewish relations in Eastern Europe, where Catholics are emerging from decades of communist repression that deprived them of much of the understanding that has developed with Jews since Vatican II.
Rabbi A. James Rudin, the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee in New York, said the demise of communism in Eastern Europe marked the beginning of the second phase of Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
Before that, Catholics and Jews spent about 20 years trying to understand each other better. Now the perspective has shifted to the church's role in shaping new societies in Eastern Europe, Rabbi Rudin said, particularly in heading off resurgent expressions there of anti-Semitism.