The Pope, the Jews & History

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Pope, the Jews and History


   On Sunday, May 6 of this year Pope John Paul became the first Pope to ever visit a Mosque, the Beth Hatefilla of Moslems. He did so in Damascus, Syria because that city has special significance to members of his faith. There he was met by the current Syrian dictator who greeted him with a paroxysm of hate directed against Jews. That sentiment was echoed by the Grand Mufti of Syria who sought to revive the old canard about “Christ Killers”.  No doubt it was the hope of these Moslems to provoke the Pope into an anti-Jewish pronouncement. This did not happen.  Instead, the Pope called upon his Moslem hosts to keep the peace while one of the Vatican’s officials underscored the Church’s opposition to anti-Jewish hatred.

   The failure of the Pope to agree with the Moslem haters is not surprising. Those who have an interest in Catholic-Jewish relations already know that on Friday, May 4, 2001 a group of New York rabbis and priests, together with some academics, concluded a three day meeting with a pledge by Catholics not to try and influence Jewish theology, to refrain from proselytizing Jews  and to engage “in dialogue and cooperation.”  Further it was agreed that a group of Jewish and Catholic scholars would be granted access to the Vatican documents pertaining to Pope Pius XII and that a Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee has been established.  Both groups pledged themselves to defend religious liberty, and with reference to the Moslem desecration of The Tomb of Joseph in Israel and the destruction of the Buddah statutes in Afganistan condemned violence against the holy sites of any religion. The Moslem effort to force conversion of Christians in the Sudan was also condemned.

   All this occurs in the light of better and better Catholic-Jewish relations these forty years. It was on March 23, 2000 that the Pope visited Israel and the Western Wall in a sincere effort to bring about friendly relations with Jews all over the world. Then, too, the Moslem clergy answered his call for cooperation and kindness between religions with hatred for Jews.

 In 1985 the Pope visited the synagogue in Rome and read Torah, in Hebrew, to the congregation. In January 1990 the Pope issued the Prague Declaration which he read in that city and which called “anti-semitism” a sin against God and humanity. This declaration was issued in an Eastern European country, directly next to Poland where anti-Jewish hatred is rampant to this day despite the near absence of Jews for the past 56 years.

   It was also in 1990 that the bishops of Poland issued a statement concerning the 25th anniversary of the Proclamation of October 27, 1965 called Nostra Aetate, or In Our Age. Both the older document and the 1990 statement sought to “absolve” Jews from the Christ killer charge.

   Of course, there are some Jews who took offense at this declaration on the grounds that we need not to be absolved of a murder with which we have nothing to do and which may or may not have taken place at all. Such an attitude, however, overlooks one of the principal teachings of sociology which is: “That which people believe is real, is real in its consequences.” Taking that dictum to heart we see that all logic ends where belief begins and that therefore logical arguments make little impression on true believers. It is for that reason that rejection of anti-Jewish beliefs is so important. It is also for that reason that we must accept the overtures of the Catholic church towards us and do our best to show reciprocity towards their efforts.

   We need not crawl or apologize to anyone for being Jews. On the contrary. We can borrow the slogan of our Christian brethren who say, “We are Catholics, let it show.” Let us say “We are Jews, let it show.” Hopefully it does, for surely no more aristocratic inheritance can be held by any human being than membership in the People of Israel.

   That said, we do not forget the past. We know and nothing can change how in the past we were persecuted and murdered because of our religion. Yet, not much can be gained by harping on these events in the light of present realities. Those persecutions are our history and history is important. It is for that reason that I have written a book you can see in any library. It is called The Jew in Christian Theology and recites in some detail the gross horrors inflicted on the Jewish people by Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians alike.  We have every right to know and record these things. Yet, we must not let past grievance blind us to a new era of love and kindness directed at us by Christians everywhere.

   Reminding us of our horrible history also serves to support our brethren in Israel who daily face 184 million Arabs determined to destroy them and us and to instigate another Holocaust. We hope and we pray that some day, somehow, Arabs too will recognize that all men, Jews also, have a right to live in peace with one another and that religious hate has no place among the family of man. May that day come soon and in our day, Bimhayro v’yomeynoo,

Shalom u’vracha.

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