Rabbi Mark Diamond, Los Angeles regional director for the American Jewish Committee, delivered the commencement address to more than 1,500 people May 13 at the first graduation ceremony of the Rosenberg School of Optometry at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, the largest Catholic University in Texas.The rabbi’s appearance was the most recent in a succession of interfaith connections with ties to Los Angeles. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles — who served as archbishop of San Antonio from 2005 to 2010 — participated with Rabbi Diamond in a special interfaith program March 19 at the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, and on May 1 spoke on Catholic-Jewish relations at Sinai Temple.“I live some 50 years after the seminal Vatican doctrine ‘Nostra Aetate’ began to open the doors of interfaith cooperation and commitment," Rabbi Diamond told students who also included graduates from UIW’s Feik School of Pharmacy and Dreeben School of Education. "My grandfather could not conceive of a world where Catholics, Jews and people of many other faiths, listen and learn, worship and work together; a world in which [UIW] President [Dr. Louis J.] Agnese visited Israel under the auspices of AJC’s Project Interchange; a world in which Pope Francis welcomed Israeli President Shimon Peres at a private Vatican audience; a world in which this grandson of immigrants celebrated a kosher Passover seder in the presence of the archbishop of Los Angeles, inaugurated an exhibit of Christian and Jewish art on the walls of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and headed an interfaith delegation to the Vatican and Israel highlighted by an audience with Pope Benedict XVI."Graduates in attendance included students from many faiths including those from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions. With more than 60 percent of its students from racial or ethnic minority groups, UIW ranks first nationally among faith-based universities in the conferring of bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics, according to the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine. “Rabbi Diamond’s interfaith work complements what we do at UIW in terms of religious inclusion, as do his efforts and that of the AJC in reaching out to the Hispanic and African-American communities,” said Agnese. “The opportunity to have a speaker of Rabbi Diamond’s caliber would have been impossible without Project Interchange. My experience with Project Interchange opened many doors and allowed me to gain a greater awareness of the complex issues facing Israel, particularly as they pertain to higher education.”Since 1982, Project Interchange has brought over 6,000 of the world’s most influential voices to Israel from 77 countries. Participants experience Israeli society, connect with Israeli counterparts, and learn about Israel’s extensive contributions in their fields. In 2012, Agnese participated in a Project Interchange seminar for university presidents. The connection was first made through Los Angeles philanthropists Debbie and Naty Saidoff. As a result, Agnese led a follow-up delegation of UIW officials to Israel in February 2013 to foster direct bilateral academic cooperation programs between UIW and Israeli Universities.The commencement ceremony focused largely on the interfaith bonds of friendship and fellowship between the Jewish and Catholic communities as well as acknowledging the hope for greater faith-based understanding among all religions.“Religious diversity is on display today at a time when much of the strife in the world is based on religious differences,” declared Agnese. “These students are Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and from other faiths. They’ll graduate from a school named after Jewish benefactors — Sandra and Stanley Rosenberg — that’s located at the largest Catholic university in Texas,” added Dr. Agnese. “We feel this sends a positive message of togetherness amidst the chaos that engulfs the lives of too many people, often with negative consequences.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0517/diamond/{/gallery}