Dialogika

Walter Cardinal Kasper

Welcoming Address to the 2001 ILC Meeting

Delivered at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York.

It is with pleasure that I greet all of you this morning. With many of you I am meeting for the first time, but, I would say, the opportunity to meet "new" people also contains the opportunity to find ever new ways to further develop a relationship that began well before our time, but which is now our own heritage and task. I am committed to this task. I am committed to work together with you for the reconciliation of our two faith communities, on the basis of a total mutual respect for our respective traditions and convictions. This mutual respect has, unfortunately, often been lacking in the past. Teshuva, therefore, is an indispensable step on our path. For us, Catholics, Pope John Paul II has set the example.

On March 12, 1979, still early in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II received in audience representatives of Jewish organizations who had come to Rome, to greet the new Pope and to meet with the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. In his address, the Pope recognized in that meeting the potential "to renew and give a fresh impulse to the dialogue which for the past years you [Jewish leaders] have had with authorized representatives of the Catholic Church. This is indeed, therefore, an important moment in the history of our relations.''1Seven years later, on Sunday April 13, 1986, the Pope made his historic visit to the Synagogue in Rome. In his address of welcome, Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff said:

Your Holiness,
As the chief rabbi of this community, I wish to express to you my intense satisfaction at the gesture you have wished to carry out today, visiting a synagogue for the first time in the history of the Church. This gesture is destined to be remembered throughout history. It shows itself linked with the enlightened teaching of your illustrious predecessor, John XXIII, who, one Sabbath morning, became the first Pope to stop and bless the Jews of Rome who were leaving this temple after prayer, and it follows the path marked out by the Second Vatican Council, which, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, produced that revolution in relations between the Church and Judaism that has made today's visit possible.

In his response, the Pope also drew on memory, and said:

I am well aware that the chief rabbi, on the night before the death of Pope John, did not hesitate to go to St. Peter's Square; and accompanied by members of the Jewish faithful, he mingled with the crowd of Catholics and other Christians, in order to pray and keep vigil, as it were, bearing witness, in a silent but very effective way, to the greatness of soul of that pontiff, who was open to all people without distinction, and in particular to the Jewish brethren. The heritage that I would now like to take up is precisely that of Pope John.

It is an heritage primarily characterized by human warmth, faith, sincerity, and sensitivity; qualities, I believe, which invite reciprocity. In fact, over the years a growing number of informed Jews, especially, but certainly not exclusively, scholars and rabbis, have wished to respond in the same way; and I am thinking of the recent Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity, Dabru Emet, "To Speak The Truth", as well.

On the Catholic side, I would like to pay tribute to two people who, for a good number of years, have made a decisive contribution to the development of positive relations between our two communities, and who have recently retired from their office in the Holy See Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews: my honorable predecessor, His Eminence Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, who was the Commission's President, and the Reverend Dr. Remi E.Hoeckman, OP, who was the Commission's Secretary. They have served the process of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation with the same qualities with which Pope John Paul II had taken up his task: human warmth, faith, sincerity and sensitivity.

As far as I am concerned, it is my hope and intention to continue on a road that Jews and Christians, as people of faith, can walk together. I agree with Cardinal Cassidy when he pointed out during a symposium held at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, on 10 February 1997, that we must move on from the constant examination of difficulties in our relations, to joint action in favour of the moral values which as faith communities we share.2 At this point in the history of our relations, our Commission is indeed convinced of the need for a dialogue which goes beyond the discussion of problems, and enters into the very heart of what constitutes our identities as faith communities, in order to allow us to proceed - on that basis – along the path of common action in today's society.3

This agenda has already been agreed upon by this very body - the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee - at its 13th meeting which took place in Prague, in September 1990. In the meantime we did continue to work, together with many Jewish friends of faith, who also believe in the possibility of, and indeed the need for engaging in a genuine interreligious dialogue, for really sharing the agenda. Rabbi Irving Greenberg has put it beautifully like this:

If committed and believing Christians and Jews can discover the image of God in each other, if they can uncover and affirm each other's proper role in the overall divine strategy of redemption, surely the inspiration of their example would bring the kingdom of God that much closer to everyone.4

We are talking here about Jews and Christians of faith, believing people, people who are - in faithfulness to their respective faith traditions - committed to the will of God. We know that many of our Jewish friends share this vision. We welcome them. We are happy to engage - on a religious basis - in a very enriching dialogue experience with them, whatever religious tradition within Judaism they belong to. We wish to receive together with them an agenda which, I believe, is given to both our communities by God. This is, as far as we are concerned, the basis of our partnership, for (and I am using the words which Pope John Paul II spoke in Assisi in October 1986), it is, in fact, our faith conviction which has made us turn to you.

My friends, as Marcus Braybrooke wrote in his book Time to Meet, "religions should meet where religions take their course, in God.''5 We are people who believe in God and want to do His will. We know our own religious faith tradition and are committed to it. We are nourished by it and feel secure in it. Hence we should have no fear to respectfully go near the faith experience of one another, to respectfully see one another's face "as one sees the face of God" (cf. Gen. 33:10), feeling blessed by it. We are partners, we are "others", but we are also "brothers.''6

The mandate for the Second Vatican Council to study thoroughly the relationship of the Church to the Jewish people came from Pope John XXIII. It expressed more than a mere gesture of goodwill and sympathy. There was a theological understanding there, which Pope John expressed when he received, in October 1960, a group of American Jews, and greeted them with the biblical words, "I am Joseph, your brother". In a certain way, Pope John echoed then what Pope Pius XI had told a group of Belgian pilgrims on 6 September 1938, namely that we Christians are spiritually Semites; and he anticipated what Pope John Paul II would tell the Jews of Rome during his visit to their synagogue: "You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers".

The relations between us spring from our respective identities, both of which are linked to the Divine Promise to God's "own people", "that good olive tree unto which [according to Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans] have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles.''7 I believe that the discovery, or the re-discovery, of this essential link between both our religious traditions, is basically the agenda for our dialogue. As one of my predecessors, Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, has once put it, "we are linked for good".


1. The relevant papal addresses have been published in the volume Pope John Paul II, Spiritual Pilgrimage - Texts on Jews and Judaism 1979-1995, edited by Eugene J. Fisher and Leon Klenicki, Crossroad/New York, 1995.

2. Cf. also an address given by Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy in Baltimore, on 18 February 1999, on the theme "Catholic-Jewish Relations - The Unfinished Agenda".

3. Cf. an address given by Remi Hoeckman at The Centre For Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge/UK, 5-7 September, 1999, on "Setting the Agenda: the Future of Jewish-Christian Relations".

4. Judaism and Christianity: Their Respective Roles in the Strategy of Redemption, in Visions of the Other-Jewish and Christian Theologians Assess the Dialogue, edited by Eugene J. Fisher, Mahwah/NJ, 1994, p. 27.

5. London/Philadelphia, 1990, p. 152.

6. Cf. Remi Hoeckman in his opening address to the participants of a theological colloquium between Catholic scholars and the Rabbinic Committee for Interreligious Dialogue, at the Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of America, Washington DC, 19 June 2000.

7. Nostra Aetate, n. 4.