National Catholic Register


Jewish Leaders Thank John Paul for Working to Advance Reconciliation


Register Correspondent

January 30-February 5, 2005 Issue | Posted 1/31/05 at 9:00 AM


VATICAN CITY — In an address to the largest-ever gathering of Jewish leaders at a papal private audience, Pope John Paul II called for a strengthening of relations with Jews in a landmark year for Jewish-Catholic relations.

“This year we will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration Nostra Aetate (In out time),” he told 160 assembled Jewish leaders from the United States, Israel, France, India, Canada and Croatia on Jan. 18.

“May this be an occasion for renewed commitment to increased understanding and cooperation in the service of building a world ever more firmly based on respect for the divine image in every human being.”

The rabbis, all members of Pave the Way Foundation, a Jewish organization that strives to bring reconciliation to people of all religions, had come to Rome for one reason: to thank the Holy Father for his efforts “to reconcile the two faiths and demolish the wall of hatred.”

In his address to John Paul in the ornate San Clementine Hall at the Vatican, Gary Krupp, founding president of the organization, drew attention to the Pope’s fight against anti-Semitism and the steps he has taken to bring reconciliation to the Jewish people.

“You have defended the Jewish people at every opportunity,” Krupp said. “You have denounced anti-Semitism as a ‘sin against God and humanity.’ This tone of reconciliation has been the cornerstone of your papacy and its relations with the Jewish people.”

Krupp made special mention of unprecedented acts of reconciliation by John Paul: his visit to Rome’s synagogue in 1986, the first by any pope; his initiative to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992; and his pilgrimage to Israel and the Holy Land in 2000, when he placed a prayer of forgiveness in the Wailing Wall and visited the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.

“It is impossible to describe the emotional impact these milestones have had on Jews worldwide,” continued Krupp. “These reconciliatory acts have, in fact, been a hallmark of your pontificate as you have also tried to repair the ancient rifts in all of the religions in the world.”

Comparing him to a disciple of Aaron, the Jewish high priest, Krupp concluded his address by calling on all the children of Abraham — Jews, Muslims and Christians — to unite to “defend all humanity against those who defame God by committing wanton acts of violence in his holy name.”

He closed with a sincere and moving expression of thanks: “Your Holiness, thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said. “Shalom, shalom, shalom.” The Holy Father was then presented with a crystal sculpture representing the “Ideals of Aaron” before having bestowed upon him a rabbinic blessing and chant.

In reply, the Holy Father invoked “the abundant blessings of the Almighty and, in particular, the gift of peace.” He closed with the words “Shalom aleichem” (peace be with you) before greeting the delegates individually.

Vatican Loan

On the eve of the meeting, Krupp announced that the Vatican has given permission for the loan of the manuscripts of the 12th-century Jewish philosopher and theologian Moses Maimonides, along with other writings, to the Israel Museum for its 40th-anniversary exhibit this spring.

“We came not to ask for anything, not to demand or negotiate anything, but just with a sincere sense of gratitude to thank the Pope for everything he has done,” said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in Secaucus, N.J., and one of the main organizers of the event.

“The Pope is constantly giving his blessing, so we decided that we would take the blessing from the Book of Numbers and bless him with it,” Bemporad said. “You could tell he was very pleased. He was genuinely moved by this — there is a genuine love on his part for the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Daniel Hartman, director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, believed the time was right to give such a powerful expression of thanks. “I know not everything is resolved and there’s a little problem here or there, but this man has done very, very deeply moral and decent things which, as Jewish people, we appreciate.”

But one obstacle, highlighted by some Church commentators, is an apparent lack of reciprocity by Jewish groups for these acts of reconciliation. Hartman argued to the contrary, but admitted this occurs usually “only among those who engage in discussion” — that is, among bishops and rabbis and not at the grass roots.

“In the higher echelons, there is a genuine respect and recognition that each one of us has an authentic relationship with God. That’s been quite clear,” Hartman said.

However, other obstacles threaten relations. The private audience came shortly after new controversial revelations which attempt to smear the reputation of Pius XII and his papacy during World War II.

The wartime pope, who is currently being considered for beatification, has faced a number of allegations against his wartime record for protecting the Jews.

The latest of these concerns a 1946 document, supposedly authorized by Pius XII, which says Jewish children baptized during the Second World War should not be allowed to return to their parents.

However, subsequent reporting disclosed that the document did not originate at the Vatican and that it promoted family reunification of Jewish children saved by the Church from the Holocaust.

‘Time to Move On’

But although some Jewish leaders, notably often of secular organizations, believe the Pius XII controversy to be a setback to Catholic-Jewish relations and have called for his beatification to be put on hold, most Jewish religious leaders, particularly those involved in interfaith dialogue, are less concerned.

Rabbi Bemporad pointed out that any controversy surrounding Pius XII “is more of a political issue than a religious one.”

“Any of us who have been in contact with Catholic officials — priests, bishops, cardinals — the Church transformation has been astounding,” Rabbi Hartman said. “Some people might not know that and they are busy fighting the last war, but we’ve already gone to another place and they’re still rattling their sabers. It’s time to move on.”

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.