Pope John Paul II and Judaism
As a child, Karol Wojtyła had played sports with his many Jewish neighbours. He was one of the few popes to have grown up in a climate of flourishing Jewish culture, one of the key components of pre-war Kraków, his interest in Jewish life dated from early youth. He wrote and delivered a number of speeches on the subject of the Church's relationship with Jews, and often paid homage to the victims of the Holocaust in many nations.
In 1998 he issued "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah" which outlined his thinking on the Holocaust.
Visit to synagogue
The Pope has said that Jews are "our elder brothers." (see dual-covenant theology)
He was the first pope to visit the former German Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, in 1979 and his visit to The Great Synagogue of Rome in April 1986 was the first known visit to a synagogue by a modern pope. He visited the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Israel in March 2000, and touched the holiest outward remaining shrine of the Jewish people, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He placed in the Western Wall a prayer that read:
- God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who, in the course of history, have caused these children of yours to suffer.
John Paul II supported greater dialogue between Catholics and Jews, but did not explicitly support dual-covenant theology. On November 17, 1980, John Paul II delivered a speech to the Jews of Berlin in which he discussed his views of Catholic-Jewish relations. In it, John Paul II asserted that God's covenant with the Jewish people was never revoked. During the speech, John Paul II cited Nostra Aetate, claiming that Catholics "will endeavor to understand better all that in the Old Testament preserves a proper and perpetual value ..., since this value has not been obliterated by the further interpretation of the New Testament, which on the contrary gave the Older its most complete meaning, so that the New one receives from the Old light and explanation ."
Relations with Israel
In 1994, John Paul II established formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, acknowledging its centrality in Jewish life and faith. In honour of this event, Pope John Paul II hosted The Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust. This concert, which was conceived and conducted by American Maestro Gilbert Levine, was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Rome, the President of Italy, and survivors of the Holocaust from around the world.
The Pope played a role in the 1990s peace negotiations in the hopes of finding a diplomatic solution between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the 1993 fundamental accord was not put into application during his papacy because of lingering problems over tax issues.
The issue of the Carmelite Nun convent at Auschwitz
Efforts at reconciliation took a step back when the Polish national Catholic bishops conferences supported the Carmelite Nuns in their attempt to establish a convent at the former World War II Nazi-run death camp located at Auschwitz, a very sensitive site in the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The proposed location of this convent provoked hostility from some sectors of the Jewish community to the idea of building the Catholic institution on the ground where mass genocide of Jews was carried out. Jewish groups believed that this was inappropriate, and some groups engaged in peaceful protest. The nuns at the convent accused Modern Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss, of Riverdale, Bronx, NY, of attempting to assault them.
The Vatican did not support this convent, but noted that since Vatican II each national bishop's conference had local autonomy. Rabbi León Klenicki, founding member of the Interfaith Theological Forum of the John Paul II Center in Washington, D.C., said:
Since Vatican II, each national bishops’ conference has its freedom to deal with local issues. Once the nuns took that place, that was under the jurisdiction of the Polish national bishops’ conference, not the Vatican. The pope couldn’t say anything. The pope intervened when the bishops’ conference was not strong enough to stop the convent. When he realized that nothing was being done, he issued an order for the nuns to move. (Lipman, 2005)
Pius IX and Pius XII
Visit to Israel
In March 2000, John Paul II visited Yad Vashem, (the Israeli national Holocaust memorial) in Israel and later made history by touching a very holy site in Judaism, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, placing a letter inside it (in which he prayed for forgiveness for the actions against Jews in the past). In part of his address he said: “I assure the Jewish people the Catholic Church ... is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place”, he added that there were “no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust”. Israeli cabinet minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, who hosted the Pope's visit, said he was “very moved” by the Pope's gesture.
“It was beyond history, beyond memory”
“We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”
In October 2003, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement congratulating Pope John Paul II on entering the 25th year of his papacy:
- His deep commitment to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people has been fundamental to his papacy. Jews throughout the world are deeply grateful to the Pope. He has defended the Jewish people at all times, as a priest in his native Poland and during his pontificate... We pray that he remains healthy for many years to come, that he achieves much success in his holy work and that Catholic-Jewish relations continue to flourish.
Immediately after the pope's death, the ADL issued a statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionised Catholic-Jewish relations, saying that “more change for the better took place in his 27 year Papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before.” In another statement issued by the Australia, Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, Director Dr. Colin Rubenstein said,“The Pope will be remembered for his inspiring spiritual leadership in the cause of freedom and humanity. He achieved far more in terms of transforming relations with both the Jewish people and the State of Israel than any other figure in the history of the Catholic Church”
“With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”— Pope John Paul II (13 April 1986)
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