In early May, 2015, Kiko Arguello provided 120 Jewish rabbis from around the world with free trips to Israel to meet with many Catholic bishops and cardinals at a special “convivence”. Two American rabbis at the meeting were outspoken about the disturbing cult of personality surrounding Mr. Arguello, and one lamented the hiding of crucifixes and pectoral crosses:
An Unexpected Trip to Israel: Catholic-Jewish Dialog
By Rabbi Jonathan Kligler, the Senior Scholar at the Lev Shalem Institute (LSI) of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, in the famed arts colony of Woodstock, New York
“My rabbinic colleagues and I all felt that this group seemed like a Catholic Chabad….Kiko not only had a big personality, he had a huge ego. He talked about himself at great length to us, his captive audience. My first impression – one that never abated much – was that all of the rabbis were there, at least in part, as Kiko’s trophies to be displayed to the Vatican hierarchy that was there, as if to show how important the Neocatechumenal Way had become. The building we were in was also clearly the fruit of Kiko’s work, and he described the hand he had taken in designing all of its features. And then – this is all still on the first day of the conference – an entire symphony orchestra had been assembled, along with an 80-voice choir, to perform for us a symphony that Kiko had composed on the theme of the suffering of the innocents at Auschwitz…By this point however I was ready for some fresh air. The Way had all the markings of a cult of personality. Perhaps the remainder of the conference agenda would open up some space for actual dialogue.”
Finding Common Ground with Catholic Sect in Israel
Rabbi Robert P. Tabak, staff chaplain at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
“But here are some of my concerns: This movement supports very traditional gender roles. Couples who were leaders from various cities were always introduced with the number of children they had: eight, 9, 10, and in one video clip, 19. Kiko Argüello is the movement’s inspiration, receiving what verges on veneration. (His partner, Carmen, was ill and not present at the gathering.) His life story is a key text for this group, underscored by the three and a half hours of his lively presentation. His role has elements of a cult of personality. In a closing evaluation, I wondered aloud whether there was room for doubt. There is a great deal of faith placed in one charming, charismatic layperson. This movement has spoken with many rabbis, but sometimes relies on an idealized image of the Jewish people. They need more knowledge about real Jews and diversity, just as we need to learn more from them. Only three female rabbis, two of them from Philadelphia, were among those attending, pointing to a significant gap in their understanding of world Jewry.“
Rabbi Freilich Shares his Experience of Attending the Historic World Convivence of Rabbis, Cardinals and Bishops
by Chief Rabbi Dovid Freilich, of the Perth Hebrew Congregation
“Despite this [Pope John Paul II making a prayer at the wailing wall] I must point out, being true to Jewish tradition, there were a few of our co-religionists that complained that he didn’t removed his cross at the Kotel. I raised this at the conference, by stating, “Why should he? He wasn’t Jewish.” No doubt we would be offended if we were asked to remove our yarmulke or Magen Dovid from around our neck if we were at a catholic gathering. But so respectful were the Catholic participants at this conference that they removed all crosses from the walls of the Domus and tucked their crosses, that usually rested outside their garments, inside so as not to offend the rabbis. I said that I felt saddened that they needed to do this as it was totally unnecessary. “
Central to the 4-day Convivence was the celebration of “Lag Ba’Omer”, which remembers Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a 2nd century rabbi, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, in the called Zohar (Book of Splendor). The lighting of bonfires is associated with Lag B’Omer:
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I enjoy seeing the portraits of these relaxed, intelligent men.