By MARILYN HENRY
WARSAW (January 18) -- In a dramatic gesture of goodwill and cooperation the Catholic Church in Poland inaugurated a "Day of Judaism" last night, after the Havdala service at the Nozyk Synagogue.
The day is intended to promote respect and cooperation, Bishop Stanislaw Gadecki said from the pulpit, addressing hundreds of Jews, nuns, monks, and priests at Warsaw's only synagogue.
Gadecki's appearance was considered extremely important and symbolic, not only to the Jewish community but also to the majority Catholic population of Poland.
Anti-Semitic tensions had been raised by broadcast from Radio Maryja, Poland's most popular catholic radio station, which is based in Torun-Medieval, about 120 miles from the capital.
Authorities had been reluctant to gag the station, which attracts about 13 percent of the population daily. They tune in for broadcasts of prayers and talk-shows in which, for example, one caller went unchallenged when he explained last year's floods by saying: "The rains in July were so unusual that I was reminded of an Israeli invention to chemically produce rain. I know that they invent such things to be omnipotent."
Krzysztof Sliwinski, the Polish Foreign Ministry envoy for Jewish affairs, said the day of Judaism and Gadecki's appearance at the synagogue was "a turning point from which official support for Jewish-Christian cooperation would filter into Polish society.
"What started a few years ago among, can I say, 'the chosen people' has become a public event that will continue," he said. "It cannot be suppressed or canceled."
Some 7,000 churches have received material suggesting how to develop local programs on Judaism, and priests were offered model sermons. "This gives them the opportunity to know our sensitivities, like anti-Semitism, especially anti-Semitism in Poland," said Stanislaw Krajewski, who represents the Jewish community in Jewish-Christian affairs.
Gadecki, who returned to Warsaw from a visit to the Vatican only an hour before the service, said he had come with the support of Pope John Paul II, who told him to remember the Holocaust.
That point was especially significant, said Krajewski. "The pope told him it wasn't enough to speak in a general theological framework. In Poland, we have to remember this tragic legacy."
Church officials had previously visited Nozyk, usually to commemorate a tragedy or to protest a misfortune, such as last February's arson attack on the synagogue, Krajewski said. "Now, it's not a reaction, but a step in the long-term process of building mutual respect," he said.
Krajewski also was hopeful that the church's public stance would motivate Polish Jews. "If the church shows respect for Jews, some marginal Jews can feel less inhibited and come back to the Jewish fold."