The Catholic Church Supporting the Jewish Community in Atlanta: Interview with Jackie Marcinko

Jackie Marcinko teaches Religion in Christ the King School in the Middle School area of learning in the Atlanta, Georgie area. She earned a B.A.  in history with a minor in religious studies from the University of Dayton in 1987. She then got a Master of Social Work at the University of Georgia, graduating in 1994.

Afterward, she completed graduate coursework in Theology at Spring Hill College. She has described herself as a cradle Roman Catholic, which has always been very important to her as it symbolized her values and religious views as she grew older. She has been married since 1992 and has two grown children, Beth and Michael, who were raised in the Catholic faith and attended Catholic school.


While her initial background  was in mental health, where she worked as a therapist for a while, religion eventually called to her, and she became a teacher at Christ the King School, where she has been working for the last twenty-four years. She recently became involved in Interfaith Atlanta and is the current Vice President of the organization after taking a course on the Abrahamic religions of the world called “The Children of Abraham” and meeting people of different faith backgrounds. Mrs. Marcinko hopes that all religions would learn about each other to understand each other and overcome prejudices.

Given her strong academic and professional background, Monsignor McNamee recommended that Jackie Marcinko would be the best person to interview given her background in working with different religions, but also because of her deep knowledge of the Catholic Church and its history, especially its relationship with the Jewish people and community. It also helps that her church, The Cathedral of Christ the King Catholic Church in Atlanta, partnered up with Ahavath Achim Synagogue to fight antisemitism together.

Throughout history, the Catholic Church and the Jewish community have had an unstable relationship. What or who do you think was responsible for building the relationship between Catholics and Jews?

Going back to the New Testament, a lot of that unstable relationship came from the Gospel of Matthew more than any other Gospel, which became the basis for much antisemitism throughout the centuries. Sadly, the Catholic Church has been very guilty of antisemitism throughout the centuries. Thankfully, that wasn’t always the case for all individual Catholics, but as an organization, we didn’t do anything to encourage the Catholic-Jewish relationship. During the Inquisition, Jews and Muslims were forced to become Catholic, which was horrible. But we have since made apologies for some of these things that had been done, such as whenPope John Paul II visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem and made a very public apology in the prayer that he put into the wall.

I think there wasn’t a specific person that I can point to for these changes because a number of people were involved. Still, I believe the changes that occurred during the Second Vatican Council made a considerable impetus to improving Catholic-Jewish relationships. If you didn’t already know, the Second Vatican Council was called by Pope John XXIII, also known as Good Pope John, on October 11, 1962, the date used as his feast day. I still say I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for the Second Vatican Council because I would have to have been a religious sister in order to be a religion teacher; instead, I am a married laywoman who does this job thanks to the Second Vatican Council.

Despite Pope John XXIII having called the Second Vatican Council, due to his death within the first year, it was Pope Paul VI who, in his own words, “guided the ship safely to the port.” Paul VI, when he was elected pope, could have disbanded the Council, but he did not and continued the Council from 1963 to the closing ceremonies of the Council on December 8th, 1965.

There is a document that was released by the Second Vatican Council that was known as “Nostra Aetate,” which is about the Catholic relationships with non-Christians, specifically Buddhists, Muslims, and our older brothers and sisters in the faith, the Jews. It’s a short document you can read on the Vatican’s website, which is in Latin because it is the official language of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. Usually, the title comes from the first words in the Latin document, in this case, meaning “In Our Time.” If I had to point to a specific event in the last hundred years, it would have been this specific document from the Second Vatican Council.

Who would you say were the Popes that were open to creating a relationship with the Jewish people?

It was Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II who helped do this, especially Pope John Paul II.

John Paul II was a young man from Poland when WWII broke out, and he had Jewish friends, some of whom he lost during the Holocaust. He had to study to be a priest in secret. After all, the Nazis had closed down the seminaries in Poland because the Nazis did not like the Poles. And so when he became pope, his goal was to improve the relationship with the Jewish people, so I believe he was the first pope in modern history to visit the synagogue in Rome. He was the second pope in modern history to visit Jerusalem after Pope Paul VI became the first reigning pope to visit the Holy Land.

I mentioned him placing that prayer into the Western Wall, known by some Christians as the Wailing Wall, even though the Western Wall is the correct definition for it.

Why do you think they wanted to create that connection with the Jewish people?

Using the language that the Catholic Church uses, we view our Jewish brothers and sisters as our older brothers and sisters in faith since God never departs from God’s Covenant, and a Covenant was made with the Jewish people. So they were the first to hear the Covenant, so there is a shared history, shared religious books like the Hebrew Scriptures that we Christians consider being the first part of the Christian Bible, what we call the Old Testament. Although it might be more appropriate to call them Hebrew Scriptures. I do think that’s why this relationship has improved and continues to improve.

Do you believe that the Holocaust played a significant role in how the Catholic Church responded to the Jewish community and other acts of antisemitism?

Yes, and I’ve done extensive training as a teacher in order to teach the Holocaust, and I don’t understand how anyone can be a Holocaust denier. I do understand how these atrocities not only occurred then but continue to occur in other places now where genocide occurs, as it seems that we have learned nothing, which saddens my heart. But I have personally heard testimony from Holocaust survivors more than ten times, and my neighbor’s grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.

I’ve taken students to an Atlanta Holocaust museum, a small museum called the Bremen Museum, where I joke I can be a guide there because I have been there so many times with my students. I think it’s essential that they know about this history, that they know how it came to be, and the only way to prevent things like this from happening in the future is by learning about them and what happened in the past.

So, yes, I think the Holocaust and the sadness of the Holocaust play an important role in improving relationships between religions, especially Jewish and Catholic ones.

I’ve seen that the Cathedral of Christ the King has partnered up with Ahavath Achim (AA) Synagogue for a presentation against antisemitism. Why would you say that it is essential to partner up with the Jewish community at this point in time?

I was not involved in the planning of the event in any way, but I know Brendan Murphy, the speaker. He is and has been a teacher for many years at the Marist School, which is an independent Catholic School within the Archdiocese of Atlanta run by a religious order, the Marist Brothers of Priests. I know him as  acquaintances, and I certainly know him professionally by his reputation, so Brendan has been speaking for years and has studied antisemitism deeply. I think it is important that if a Catholic scholar is going to speak about a sensitive subject, such as antisemitism, it’s important, if it’s being sponsored by a Catholic organization, doing so hand-in-hand with a Jewish congregation, make sure that it isn’t just the Catholics talking about antisemitism, but that we, the Catholics and the Jews, learn about it and move beyond it.

Even though I had nothing to do with the planning, I was glad to see that my own community was working hand-in-hand with a Jewish congregation to pull this off because I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about something without having representatives of that community to say how it impacts them directly. Mainly because most individuals I know who are Jewish have a tie to someone who experienced the Holocaust firsthand, you know, whether it was a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent; even though we are getting further away, that whole generational trauma continues for those in the Jewish community. This is something important to acknowledge when someone has been so formed by trauma; it doesn’t just impact the individual who faced the trauma, but then it impacts their children and their grandchildren for generations to come.

Two communities working together to discuss this topic of antisemitism is always better than one community discussing it without any collaboration.

What inspired you to interact with communities of different faiths through Interfaith Atlanta, and how is it possible?

I was taking a class called “Children of Abraham,” as an educator, I really believe in the value of lifelong learning. I wanted to learn more about the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam. I particularly wanted to know about Islam because I knew very little about it. I feel this class was a moment when God was calling me in a new direction to be more involved in Interfaith Atlanta because I wasn’t particularly looking for it. Still, it was clearly something I fit into, and I have been very excited to grow those relationships. Prior to this, I wouldn’t have been able to say that I had a friend who was a Sikh, a friend who was a Buddhist, a friend who was a Hindu, or someone whom I consider to be a friend who was Muslim, and now I can say that I have friends in all of those faith traditions. I probably could have said that I had friends who were Jewish and friends who were in other denominations of Christianity.

Still, it’s been exciting to learn about different faith religions that I knew a little bit about or from textbooks to actually hear from someone who practices the religion, especially since each community has its version of its religion, like there are different types of Christians. For example, two people on our board are practicing Buddhists but are from other sects of Buddhism. Some people are from various sects of Islam, like Sunni and Shia, and understanding within those groupings are subgroupings. Just like in Catholicism, we are a universal church, but there are different ways of being Catholic; for instance, I’m Roman Catholic, but there are other groups of Catholics in the world with different traditions.

Before this interview, I was in a meeting with Interfaith Atlanta where the President of the Board, Rabbi Ellen Nemhauser, was telling us how the other interfaith organizations in Atlanta have fallen apart due to the war with Israel and Hamas, along with what’s happening in Gaza. Rabbi Ellen said that, thankfully, Interfaith Atlanta hasn’t, and part of that is because our people know one another as people, separate from religious and political affiliation. Especially when you know someone as a human, it is much easier to remember that they have different beliefs than you do, whether religious or political.

However, they are still human beings who have emotions and care about their friends and families. Instead, some organizations just join up to learn about the religion and forget about learning and interacting with the people who practice those religions, which is why they fall.

What would you like the Jewish community to know about the Catholic and Christian communities to help them connect better with them?

Many of us are open to [making] those connections so please invite us to things. My friend, Rabbi Ellen, invited my family and me to her house for one of the nights of Chanukkah, and it was beautiful to celebrate a religious observance within their own home. I did things when I was a teenager and was involved in a youth group, where I got invited to go to a synagogue that did a Passover meal and explained it to us while being invited into someone’s home during Passover has a different feel to it.

So, please keep inviting us to things and help us to learn, is what I would say to different Jewish congregations, and please accept our invitations to things in our community, whether it’s a talk or prayer service or something historical to learn about. For example, the Cathedral has beautiful stained-glass windows that tell stories; sometimes, we have tours to teach about those stained-glass windows. I know we open it up to our Parish when we open. We typically fill the Cathedral because people are interested, and we should open it to a broader community, not just our own.

That would be the best way because we build those bridges when we do things together.