Pope John Paul II
- Created: June 24, 1988
- Written by John Paul II
Mr. President of the Israelite Worship Communities,
Dear Chief Rabbi,
In the Book of Jeremiah [31:15] we read: "A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound is bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children; they are gone."
Such a lament is also the keynote of your words of greeting with which you addressed me this very moment in the name of the Jewish communities in Austria. I was profoundly moved by it. I return your greeting with love and appreciation and assure you that this love also includes the awareness of all that afflicts you. Fifty years ago this city's synagogue went up in flames. Thousands of people were sent from here to death camps; multitudes were driven by flight. Those incomprehensible sufferings, pains, and tears are before my eyes and leave a deep impression on my soul. Indeed, one can love only someone he knows.
I am happy that during my pastoral visit I also was able to meet you. May this be a sign of our mutual esteem and manifest a readiness to get to know one another better, to remove deep fears and to share with one another trust-inspiring experiences.
"Shalom!" "Peace!' This religious greeting is an invitation to peace. It has a central significance at our encounter this morning before the Shabbat; it also has a central Christian significance from the greetings of peace of the Risen Lord to the apostles in the upper room. Peace comprises the offer and the possibility of forgiveness and mercy, the outstanding qualities of our God, the God of the Covenant. You experience and celebrate in faith this certainty, when you annually keep the great Day of Reparation, the Yom Kippur, as a feast day. We Christians contemplate this mystery in the heart of Christ who—pierced by our sins and those of the whole world—dies on the cross. That is the highest degree of solidarity and fraternity by the power of grace. Hatred is extinguished and erased, the Covenant of love is renewed. This is the Covenant which the Church lives in faith, in which she experiences her deep and mysterious union in love and faith with the Jewish people. No historical event, however painful it may be, can be so powerful that it could contradict this reality which belongs to God's plan for our salvation and fraternal reconciliation.
The relationship between Jews and Christians has essentially changed and improved since the Second Vatican Council and its solemn declaration Nostra Aetate. Since then there is an official dialogue whose proper and central dimension should be the "encounter between the present Christian Churches and today's people of the Covenant made with Moses," as I expressed on another occasion [Address to the representatives of the Jews at Mainz, November 17,1980].
Meanwhile, further steps have been made towards reconciliation; my visit to the Roman Synagogue also testifies to this.
Yet you and we are still burdened by the memory of the Shoah, the murder of millions of Jews in the concentration camps. It would be, of course, unjust and untrue to put the blame for those unspeakable crimes on Christianity. Rather, here is revealed the dreadful face of a world without, and even against, God, whose intentions to kill were clearly directed against the Jewish people, but also against the faith of those who revere in the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, the Redeemer of the world. Individual solemn protests and appeals caused their intentions to become still more fanatical.
An appropriate meditation on the suffering and martyrdom of the Jewish people cannot be made without a profound reference to the faith experience which marks its history, beginning with the faith of Abraham, to the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, to the sealing of the Covenant on Sinai. It is a journey in faith and obedience in response to the loving call of God. As I said last year to the representatives of the Jewish community in Warsaw, out of those cruel sufferings can grow a much deeper hope, can rise a saving cry of warning for the whole human race. To remember the Shoah means to hope and to see to it that there will never be a repetition of it.
We cannot remain insensitive in the face of such immeasurable suffering; yet faith tells us that God does not desert the persecuted, but rather reveals himself to them and by it enlightens that people on the way to salvation. This is the teaching of Holy Scripture, this is revealed to us in the Prophets, in Isaiah and Jeremiah. In this faith, the common heritage of both Jews and Christians, are the roots of Europe's history. For us Christians, every human suffering finds its ultimate meaning in the Cross of Jesus Christ. However, this does not hinder us, but urges us to sympathize much more in solidarity with the deep wounds which were inflicted on the Jewish people in the persecutions, especially in this century, due to modem anti-Semitism.
The process of complete reconciliation between Jews and Christians has to be carried on in full force on all levels of relationships between our communities. Collaboration and common studies should help to explore in a deeper way the significance of the Shoah. The causes which are responsible for anti-Semitism or which still more universally lead to the so-called "Holy Wars" must be discovered and, if at all possible, removed. From what we see happening in the ecumenical sphere, I am confident that it will be possible to speak openly among ourselves about the rivalries, the radicalism, and the conflicts of the past. We must try to recognize them also in their historical conditions and overcome them by our common efforts for peace, for a consistent witness of faith and the promotion of the moral values which should characterize individuals and nations.
Already, in the past, there was no lack of dear and emphatic warnings against every kind of religious discrimination. I recall here especially the express condemnation of anti-Semitism through a decree of the Holy See in 1928 where it says that the Holy See rigorously condemns hatred of the Jewish people, "that hate, namely, which one usually calls today 'anti-Semitism.'" The same condemnation was also expressed by Pope Pius XI in 1938. Among the manifold modem initiatives which have arisen in the spirit of the Council for the Jewish-Christian dialogue, I would like to point to the Centre for Information, Education, Meetings, and Prayer which will be established in Poland. Its purpose is to explore the Shoah as well as the martyrdom of the Polish people and that of the other European nations during the time of National Socialism and also to enter into discussions about them. We hope that it will bear rich fruit and serve as an example for other nations. Initiatives of that kind will also enrich the civil life of all social groups, animating them to care in mutual respect for the weak, the needy, and marginalized, to overcome hostilities and prejudices, as well as to defend human rights, especially the right to religious freedom for each individual and community.
In this extensive program of action to which we invite Jews, Christians, and all people of goodwill, the Catholics of Austria have already taken part for many years, bishops and faithful as well as different groups. Very recently, fruitful encounters with Jewish leaders have taken place in Vienna.
The unity and harmony of diverse groups within a nation is also a firm prerequisite for an effective contribution towards promoting peace and understanding among nations, as the Austrian history of the last decades has shown. The matter of peace concerns all of us intimately, especially in the Holy Land, in Israel, in Lebanon, in the Middle East. These are regions with which we have deep ties on a biblical, historical, religious, and cultural level. Peace is, according to the teachings of the Prophets of Israel, a fruit of justice and law and at the same time an undeserved gift of the Messianic period. Therefore here also we have to do away with any sort of violence, which is a repetition of old mistakes and therefore causes hatred, fanaticism, and religious integralism, which are enemies of human harmony. In this connection each one should examine his own conscience according to his responsibility and competence. Above all, it is necessary that we promote a constructive dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims so that the common faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [Exod. 3:6] becomes effectively fruitful in the search for mutual understanding and fraternal living without violating the rights of anybody.
In this sense, every initiative of the Holy See has to be understood, when it tries to seek the recognition of equal dignity for the Jewish people in the State of Israel and for the Palestinian people. As I pointed out to the representatives of the Jewish communities in the United States of America, the Jewish people have a right to a homeland like any other nation, according to international law. The same goes also for the Palestinian people, many of whom are homeless and refugees. By a common readiness of understanding and compromise solutions can be found which lead to a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace in this area [Address, September 11, 1987]. If only forgiveness and love are sown in plenty, the weeds of hate cannot grow; they will be smothered. To remember the Shoah also means to oppose every germ of violence and to protect and promote with patience and perseverance every tender shoot of freedom and peace.
In this spirit of readiness for Christian reconciliation, I return from my heart your shalom and implore for all of us the gift of fraternal harmony and the blessing of the almighty and bountiful God of Abraham, your Father in the faith and ours.