Dialogika

Nostra Aetate precursors

Address to "the People of the Covenant"

Megiddo, Israel

Pope Paul VI was the first pope to visit the Holy Land since the time of the apostles. On January 5, 1964 he entered the State of Israel at Megiddo and was greeted by Israeli President Zalman Shazar. The papal journey occurred between the second and third sessions of the Second Vatican Council, when the future of the proposed Statement on the Jews (which would become Nostra Aetate) was very much in doubt. A draft submitted to the Council on November 18, 1963 was criticized by bishops from the Middle East who feared reprisals against Christian minorities in their dioceses. The Council closed on December 4, 1963 with no vote taken on the draft text, increasing the likelihood that the project would be permanently tabled. The envisioned document was also criticized for allegedly injecting the Catholic Church into the Arab-Israeli conflict, possibly explaining why Paul VI did not name "Israel" as a nation-state during his trip. The political pressures are evident in a contemporary statement on Jordanian radio: "Two thousand years ago, the Jews crucified Christ, and fifteen years ago they attacked the people of Palestine.... Truly of all the world religions it is the Jews who are the enemies of God. Truly, the crimes of the Jews shall never be forgiven them" (New York Herald Tribune, Jan 5, 1964). Paul VI's address at Megiddo to the welcoming delegation, even though it never named the Jewish state or the official titles of its representatives, made a positive theological reference to "the People of the Covenant." This set a tone that may have contributed to the eventual adoption of Nostra Aetate by the Council. 


Paul-VI-MegiddoI am deeply touched, Your Excellency, by the deeply respectful and warm welcome that you have provided for me, by coming personally to meet me. I wish to express my gratitude, as well as my thanks for all of the solicitude which the [Israeli] authorities have shown in everything concerning my trip.

I would like these first words of mine to express all of the emotion that I feel, as I see with my own eyes, and tread upon with my own footsteps, this Land where the Patriarchs, our Fathers in faith, once walked ... this Land which for centuries rang with the voices of the Prophets, who spoke in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... this Land which, lastly and most importantly of all, was blessed and consecrated forever by the presence of Jesus Christ—blessed and consecrated for Christians and, we might say, for the whole human race.

As Your Excellency is aware, and as God Himself is my witness, I have not been guided in this visit by anything other than purely spiritual considerations. I have come as a pilgrim; I have come to venerate the Holy Places; I have come to pray.

From this Land, which is unique in the world because of the greatness of the events whose stage it has been, my humble plea rises up to God for all people, believers and non-believers alike, and I gladly include in this prayer the descendants of the "People of the Covenant," whose role in humanity's religious history could never be forgotten.

As a pilgrim of peace, I beg above all for the gift of reconciliation between human beings and God, and for that profound, true concord between individual human beings, and between peoples. May God see fit to hear my prayer-this God who, as the prophet proclaims, has "plans for [our] welfare and not disaster" (Jer 29:11).

May God see fit to pour out upon our tormented modern world this incomparable gift, whose echo rings out from every page of the Bible, and with which I am happy to sum up my greeting, my prayers and my wishes: Shalom! Shalom!