Christian Conversion of Jews?

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"Study Outline on the Mission and Witness of the Church"

The following translation from the original Italian is based on the revised version of the study paper prepared by Professor Federici and includes a preface by the author. It is posted here with the author's permission.


The following study outline on "The Mission and Witness of the Church" was presented at the sixth meeting of the Liaison Committee between the Roman Catholic Church and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, held in Venice at Casa Cardinal Piazza, March 27 to 30, 1977. It was the basis of discussion between the two parties. In all meetings it is usual to have one or two unofficial papers from either side that serve to orient the discussion on a given theme, which is chosen in advance by common consent of the parties themselves.

The outline here published was drawn up by Tommaso Federici, consultant member of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, which has its office in the Secretariat for Christian Unity. The author submitted it to the other consultant members of the said Commission, whose observations he noted and embodied in the final version presented in Venice. For part three of the outline, entitled "The Catholic Church in Dialogue", with its presuppositions and technical aspects, a greatly appreciated collaboration was given by Monsignor Pietro Rossano, secretary of the Secretariat for Non-Christians and consultant of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

The author wishes to state that any other version than the present study outline on "The Mission and Witness of the Church" which may in any way have been published, whether in part or apparently complete, whether in daily newspapers or in periodicals, in any language whatever, is to be considered unauthentic and therefore unauthorized.

Tommaso Federici



1. By now no one can be unaware that the Catholic Church is in an irreversible phase of profound renewal. Various factors have contributed to this historical moment, among them, by divine Providence, the so-called "modern renewal movements". Hence we speak of an authentic beginning of "return to the sources".

2. Among these "movements", first and foremost should be noted the biblical movement, that proposes anew the study and living of Scripture as a necessary substratum of the Church's life and action in the world. The liturgical movement, with its insistence on the biblical "history of salvation" to be lived in the community of faith, leading once more to the central significance of the cult of the One God as"memorial" and thanksgiving for all the marvels he worked in the history of his people, as "blessing" of him who performed them, and praise and glorification of him in himself. The patristic movement has brought us again to the vital, global and pastoral manner of the Fathers of the Church, which nourishes the people with continuous Scripture reading lived in communitarian liturgy and in life. The pastoral movement is concerned with study and action for community life. The catechetical movement deals in particular with the content and technique of the Church's on-going teaching, based necessarily on Scripture. The missionary movement has given fresh impetus to the evangelizing action of the Church among the peoples and cultures of the world, following accurate study of multiple connected questions. The spirituality movement seeks to deepen and diffuse the biblical and vital contents of aliving faith. The ecumenical movement has rediscovered the factors that led to the age-old divisions between groups of Christians, studies their causes and remedies, and urges along the difficult way to a rediscovered unity, showing again that there is no ecumenism without authentic and on-going renewal (Unitatis Redintegratio 6-8). Dialogue with the various religions and emerging ideologies requires that Christians listen to the deep questions of men of ourtimes, and share with them their own experience as men and believers in the building up of the "society of love" illumined by "God's light". A renewed sense of history, read in the light of Scripture, today leads to a deeper knowledge of the origins and vicissitudes of the Church, her insertion in the world and among different peoples and cultures, the biblical plan of salvation and its actualization in the midst of the events involving men of all times.

3. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965) came about at the happy meeting place of these "movements'' and other complementary ones, begun and carried forward by a few increasingly successful pioneers. It sanctioned the intuitions, desires, studies and efforts of past decades, analyzed and synthesized their provisional results, while finally giving fresh impetus to the main, vital contents.

On its side, urged on by pressing demands for renewal, the Council undertook a tremendous effort of re-thinking and deepening of the whole life of the Catholic Church, in herself and in so far as her life is lived in the midst of the world among peoples and cultures, and in the unfolding of concrete history. All this is set down in the sixteen official Council documents, which will be the indispensable future basis of modern action in the Church.

4. It is, however, not a closed basis, as numerous "documents for application" have already shown. These have exposed various pressing points in the conciliar documents, or have raised fresh ones from recent events, and have laid down guidelines for the program of the ecumenical Council to be carried out thoroughly and coherently. The magisterium of the popes, too, who directed the work of Vatican II, and oriented its application, shows this irreversible will for renewal. Hence, ten years after the end of the Council, it is possible to note not merely the phases of its actualization, but also real progress, as also much that remains to be done either in the near future or in future generations.

5. Therefore, it is a question of real and irreversible acquisitions or reacquisitions, gained by the peaceful efforts of the Catholic Church in her internal life and in her relations with other churches or other religions of the universe, particularly with Judaism, or any other human groups.

6. Neither should it be overlooked that we are speaking of a solid undertaking, guided by the Pope and the bishops, but carried out by degrees. There are certainly many external and internal difficulties, but it goes forward irreversibly with hope and trust in the divine will.


The present phase of renewal in the Catholic Church is marked by a careful and by now more and more universal and continuous "return to biblical sources".

1. This has come about among Christians either through pioneers, first Protestant and then Catholic, or by means of official efforts of the Catholic Church, with the foundation of specialized institutes for high level biblical studies. But a very particular aspect of this "return to the sources" came with the present liturgical reform. This not only obliged and continues to oblige to the study of the biblical and Jewish origins of the Christian liturgy, but in the new Roman Lectionary of the Mass and other celebrations it has recovered the whole of the priceless reading of the Old Testament, and consequently the vital sense of the historical dimension of the cult of the One God and the co-extensive salvation of man. Furthermore, numerous programmatic pontifical documents, as well as those the Council drew up (notably Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, and Dei Verbum, the Constitution on Divine Revelation), and finally, documents concerned with their implementation, have given this "return" a universality in extension and depth.

2. Study and continual contact with the sources have gradually intensified the movement towards a total rediscovery of divine Revelation set down in Scripture as "sacred history", history of divine salvation ceaselessly coming about among men, divine design of universal salvation in the world and in the complex vicissitudes of men and peoples of the earth. This plan takes place and is actuated in the exemplary choice of an historical people, Israel, and from it goes forth to spread throughout the universe. There is better understanding of the salvific definitive value of the divine Word which, bestowed as exemplary, irreversible and faithful promise to the fathers (cf. Gen 12:1-3 for Abraham as model), was continually proclaimed to the people in worship that it might also be lived in their life. It was confirmed by the prophets, and in essence "remains eternally" (Is40:8). Better understood is the pressing necessity Christ lays on his disciplesof all times, when he teaches in person and thereby sends the disciples themselves to scrutinize the Scriptures (cf. Luke 24:25-27 and 44-47; texts which were taken up again in the context of Dei Verbum 14-17 on the Old Testament in the life of the Church today), Scriptures that were then, in practice, the Old Testament with its permanent value, in view of a life to belived. Hence the apostle Paul, demonstrating the historical basis of the event of Christ's death, clearly states that it was "according to Scripture" (1 Cor 15:3) and so also for the resurrection of Christ that is "according to the Scriptures" (vs. 4), at that time consisting only of the Old Testament. Already then acute problems of interpretation, confrontation and actuation were posed, whereby it is easy to understand the sound reasons behind the Vatican Council's reminder that the whole Church should firstly evangelize herself with the Word (cf. on this in particular Sacrosanctum Concilium; Dei Verbum). In-depth scriptural study reveals ever more clearly the salvific paschal historical thread, so that, while the Church recognizes herself as a "pilgrim on earth" (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 2,8; Lumen Gentium 48, 68; Dei Verbum 7; Unitatis Redintegratio 2,6; Ad Gentes 2; Christus Dominus 16), that is, while she carries into action her "paschal exodus", her prayer and action once again are evermore impressed with the paschal event, in a continual "memorial" of the paschal act, in permanent blessing, thanksgiving and praise to the Lord. Hence, authoritative voices have stated very precisely that the greatest Christian re-discovery of our times has been that of the paschal event, and Christian life will be increasingly specifically marked with a clear paschal spirituality. In the same official documents, and this should be noted, the thought of the Church on the various questions dealt with is more and better expressed with numerous and adequate biblical citations.

3. In a relatively short space of time, but particularly since Vatican II, within the Catholic Church there has come about a change of mentality among the leaders and the faithful, in spite of lags and resistances. By now it is no longer possible in practice to ignore facts and realities; a closed necessarily reductive "reading" is not possible. Internal and external relationships in the Church can no longer be based on anything but inductive, realistic and more complete analysis, taking into account situations, other men and their requirements, interpersonal relationships. And all this adhering ever more fully to the divine will as expressed in the biblical revelation to men in history, concretely to the people chosen by God.

4. This makes it easy to foretell that in the fairly near future the Catholic Church's relationships with other human, cultural and religious groups, are destined to enter into an improved, more open and realistically available phase.

5. Very favorable for this is both the earlier and more recent ecumenical experience that has taught and clarified a new method of analysis of reality and its resulting relationships.

6. It was necessary to state all this in order to present the theme of this study in complete and firm adherence to the Catholic faith.


I. The Biblical Precept of Mission to the Peoples of the Earth

The Catholic Church does not conceal the fact that the basis of her mission in the world, among the peoples of the earth and through their cultures, is to be found exclusively in the revealed will of God. In no way has she any human motive based on power, preeminence or conquest. On the contrary, she claims a mission of service to the One God, and co-extensively of fraternal service to the peoples of the earth.

Already in the Scriptures of the two Testaments this echoes like an imperative precept. And the Church feels called and solicited directly and continually by both Old and New Testaments. She looks on the Old Testament as a concrete reality that is hers rather than something foreign, almost accidental and distant, even if it is to be studied on the basis of the plenitude brought by the New Testament. For this reason she has always reaffirmed and still maintains her links with the Jews.


1. The Church is firmly conscious of having as her own the great precept of the Old Testament, fulfilled and renewed by the New Testament, of making known the Name of the One God among the peoples of the earth in all eras (cf. infra). The Lord in his infinite majesty as in his goodness has himself revealed his one true Name, the only authentic one (Ex 3: 15), the one that is to be worshipped and to be invoked with fear and faith as well as with love (Ex 23: 13). Hence, the people he chose for himself will be distinguished from every other people by their calling upon the Name in praise, commemoration, invocation and petition. It is a "terrible" Name (Deut 28:5), eternal (Ps 135:13), all holy (Ps 99:3,5,9), sanctified (Is 29:23), praised, thanked and invoked (Ps 7:18), loved (Ps 5:12). To invoke the divine Name, but not in vain (Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11), that means the attainment of salvation (Joel [Hebrew] 3:5; [RSV] 2:32).

2. It is therefore necessary that the people God himself chose for his merciful plan should carry to other peoples, but always and only through the sole grace of the One God, "to invoke the Name of the Lord and serve him ‘with one shoulder’ (adoration)" (Zeph 3:9). This is the universalist opening that rings forth from the Old Testament, whether in the Torah of Moses (for example, in the "covenant of brotherhood" of Abraham the common father: Gen 12:1-3), or in the Prophets (cf. Is 2:1-5;10:33-11:10; 25:6-12; 49:1-6; 56:1-8; 60; 66:7-23; Jer 16:19-21; and others), or in the wisdom books and the psalms.

3. But the Lord himself has sent out severe and clear prophetic warnings that he will not tolerate on any account that his people "make his name blasphemed" among the nations (cf. Ez 36:16-23; cf. also Deut; other Prophets; and in the New Testament, Christ, for example in Lk 6:17-49; Paul, Rom 2:24, that recalls Is 52:5; 1 Tim 6:1; Tit 2:5; 1 Pet 4:4;Jas 2:7).

4. Because in fact, the mission of the people of God in all ages and on the earth is always to "sanctify the Name (Kiddushha-Shem)" in the world and among peoples (Ex 9: 16; Is 29:23; cf. Num 20:23; cf. Is 8: 13; Ez 20:41; 28:22,25; 36:23; 38:16,23; Mal 1:11,14).

5. In the New Testament the person of Christ, Lord and God (Jn 20: 29) is represented both as the continuing of the prophetic line of the Old Testament, and as something new, so that he is central and stands as the source of the very complex and heavily weighted historical and spiritual consequences. Christ himself, in the wake of the Old Testament, places the precept "hallow the divine Name" in first place in the Lord's prayer or "Our Father", when he taught it to his disciples (Mt 6:9; Lk 11:2; see also the synagogal parallel in the liturgical Kaddish), which is then made more explicit by apostolic men (thus in Heb 13:15; see also Rom 9:17; inthe difficult context of "the mystery of Israel", actually quoting Ex 9:16; cf. texts like Eph 3). Christ makes known the fullness of the divine Name in a new way to his disciples of all times, the divine Name that is "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ",  ineffable and tremendous object of adoring love (cf. for example, Jn 17, the whole chapter; and the "incipit" (openings) of the Pauline epistles).

6. The person of Christ, Lord and Master, together with his teaching and that of the apostles, commit Christians of all times, therefore, to consider themselves in the historical and prophetical line of the biblical covenant, and in a perspective above nationality, as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God for his own to proclaim his triumphs . . ." (1 Pet 2:9, which is a re-reading of Ex19:5-6, with Old Testament parallels).

7. Both before and after his resurrection, Christ ordered his faithful disciples to continue his self-same mission: to proclaim the Name of God and Father, and all the salvific reality that springs from it as from a unique, prodigious source: his justice and mercy, his kingdom of salvation through love,the fraternity among all men, the return to the home of the common Father in a spirit of conversion of heart (teshuvah, Greek epistrophÃ; niÊam, Greek metanoia), and the receiving of a never-ending gift of divine grace, as in the promise made to the fathers (cf. Mk 1:14-15; Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-20; Acts 1:8 and other texts). Therefore the Lord gives his Spirit (cf. Lk 24:2; Acts 2:1-11; Jn 20:21-23).

8. Basing ourselves on the latest analysis of New Testament texts, we can state that primitive missionary methodology was founded on the fact that Christ himself and therefore the apostles, conscious of belonging to their people, the chosen people of God, had at first wanted to involve and associate Israel in the mission of universal salvation among the nations, understood emphatically as unique in the divine plan. The Church has never wanted to operate alone. Hence she had first to turn to the house of Israel (M t9:35-11:1, Christ's messianic ministry and "missionary discourse" addressed to his apostles, cf. especially vss. 10:5-10; Acts 2: 13-40; 3: 16-26;7: 1-53; 13:14-41 and 44-47; 18: 4-9; 22: 1-21; 28:17-28, and others). Only afterwards they would have turned to the pagan peoples who stood outside the covenant with the fathers in the renewal brought about by Christ (cf. Mt 28:16-20; Acts 10:34-48; 13: 46-52; 14: 15-17; 17:16-34; 19; 20; 26: 1-23;28:30-31).

9. The best-known New Testament missionary experience, that of Paul, enabled him, however, to get to the bottom of the difficult problematic of relationships between the new community of the faithful, the Church, and historical Israel, that came up immediately in dramatic terms. This problematic is to be found in the fundamental text of Romans 9:1-11,36 (which, however, should be read in the global context of many other New Testament texts), but has often not been sufficiently explored in its presuppositions, its dynamic reality and its ultimate consequences. When re-examined, the Pauline text allows us to conclude respectfully and with all reserve due to possible ulterior exploration and acquisitions, that the mission of the Church to Israel consists rather in a Christian life lived in total fidelity to the One God and his revealed Word, so that Jews and Christians emulate each other in their turning to God (cf. e.g.Rom 11:11,14), and this is the universal salvation of the Jews and all peoples. In brief, Paul admonishes his churches that the Israelites, because of the irreversible divine election given by the faithful and living divine Word, to the fathers (cf. 9:4-5), are God's "beloved" (Rom 11:28), because—unlike men who are always sinners—God is unchangeably "the Faithful One" to himself and therefore towards Israel. "God's gifts and call are without repentance" (Rom 11:29). Hence the Church in the course of ages, and today with the emerging of various principles and avenues of research, has felt and feels towards the Jews a variety of attitudes: respect for their mission, desire to find common forms of testifying to the divine Name in the world, particularly in the modern world that is losing every feeling of the divine and of transcendence; in other periods, for a long time, the desire to embrace Israel through conversion to Christianity. Today in the Church there is a renewed feeling that in any case the people God has chosen for himself is "the people of divine praise" (cf. for example Ad Gentes 2, on the mission to non-Christian peoples).

10. Here it should be emphatically stated as is affirmed in many contexts (cf. Lumen Gentium 16; Dei Verbum 14-16; Nostra Aetate 4; Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" No. 4, espec, par. III), and more and more studied by various ecclesial currents, that no inspired Christian sources can warrant our supposing that the Lord's covenant with his people Israel has been abrogated and almost reduced to nothing (cf. above, B 2). And this, even if the events of the Christian Easter and Pentecost, for example in Luke's intense view, have given the Church—that for Luke is Israel—the deep conviction of having obtained, in its beginnings but very really from God, the object of Israel's messianism.


1. The Church, therefore, has obeyed the powerful precept of her Lord to proclaim the Name of the One God to the world and all peoples, up to  this very day. This has been an incredible two-thousand-year effort that has been substantially uninterrupted in spite of adverse human events. Paul VI's pontifical exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 Dec. 1975) traces clearly the perennial conditions of the Church's mission starting from Jesus Christ the Lord, in its necessary adaptation to the situation of today's world.

2. The Church has always proclaimed to the world the God she worships, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Moses (Ex 3:6; cf. quotation made by Jesus, Mk 12:26-27 and parallels), the God of David, the God of the Suffering Servant, the God of Jesus Christ. He is the hidden Lord, the Lord of Israel, the Savior (Is 45:15). He is the Lord Creator, Provider, Father, "compassionate and gracious" (Ex 34:5-8; Ps 103:8) "He gives food to all his creatures; his love endures forever" (Ps 136:25, the great Paschal Hallel), who maintains his promise to the fathers (Ps 105:42-45; 106:45-47) in a continuous divine "memorial", perpetually realizing it for his people and extending it to the gentiles, but carrying it out and propagating it most of all through Jesus Christ servant, poor, meek and humble (Acts 10:34-43; 13:16-41).

3. In the course of centuries, then, the Church has brought innumerable peoples, kingdoms and human cultures to faith and love of the only living Lord, who ever manifests that he has acted and acts with great and terrible deeds in the history of his people, "with efficacious actions and with his words" (thus in Dei Verbum 2). And that the Lord has also acted and acts in the history of the nations of the earth, in the periods of the Old and New Testaments, and in the course of worldly events, according to his inscrutable wisdom. These are efficacious acts of goodness and mercy, pardon and calling, the recovering of the lost and entry into the messianic kingdom of those God himself has saved; and there are also severe but just "signs" to call to the needed conversion of heart. The Church would have operated more widely in the world had it not been for repeated historical obstacles, particularly in the East. But also and no less harmful were the irreparable schisms, the behavior involving ambiguity, compromises, errors of realization, intemperance and cruelty, which nearly always slowed down, and often wholly frustrated, the urgency and efforts of the mission, causing obvious infidelity to the authentic way of "proclaiming the divine Name".

4. Without triumphalism, but only conscious of her own mission, it can be stated that the Church meditates on the revealed but ineffable mystery of the divine goodness, by which throughout the ages not only did many people reach the adoration and sanctification of the Name, but this Name is at least known in the whole world. And the substance of the biblical message, centered on Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, who died and rose for love, is therefore a message of justice, goodness, humanity, wisdom, liberty, equality, fraternity, total peace, aspiration to a full development of men and human societies, which has become a universal patrimony, even though many, whether cultures or individuals, do not realize it.

5. In this uninterrupted mission, even through insurmountable obstacles, men have been offered the laborious but sure way that, through the saving proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ, carries all the brethren united among themselves by a common bond of solidarity, towards the one God and Lord, to love, recognize, thank and adore him. And this salvific dynamic faith has manifested and will manifest the complete liberation of man, with effective results even in the field of social relationships. This has been reaffirmed also in Paul VI's recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 Dec. 1975), that is a kind of "summa" of missionary action and witness of the Catholic Church today in the world.

6. It can be stated that besides this, the Church does not ignore that according to the revealed divine global plan, Israel has an important fundamental work to do, which originates in the "sanctification of the Name" in the world.

7. And she knows with certainty that the "honor of the Name" is conditioned by the salvation of the Jewish people who are the original nucleus of the divine plan of salvation.

8. And because of her fidelity to Jesus Christ the Lord, which she can never relinquish, the Church must proclaim to the world that Christ himself, with his life, his word, his works, his death and resurrection, has not made void the divine plan, but rather, coming in his humility and meekness, in poverty and service, he is the living, efficacious synthesis of the divine promise to give the Spirit of God to man.


1. Today, in spite of every existing temptation to the contrary, in the Catholic Church it becomes clearer that the mission received from her Lord and Master is before everything else a life lived in fidelity to God and men; it is unity in love, respect for all brethren, service excluding no one, sacrifice and goodness, as is clear from the biblical announcement, confirmed by the Master the very evening he accepted to die for all men (cf. Jn13:1- 17:26).

2. Hence, obviously, there is a severe rejection of and denial of inauthentic missionary methods which, while proclaiming the Lord and his Kingdom to men, fail to urge the herald of the proclamation and the witness to live already according to this same reality (cf. Paul's stern remarks in 1Cor 9:27). In this lack of effort there is not the awareness of having to ask pardon of the common Father and men our brothers, every time that in the course of history our neighbor has suffered from our wrongful actions.

3. It seems as if today, when individuals or groups from various Christian milieus are asserting an increasing fidelity to the Lord and his revealed word, with greater awareness of being and acting in the world, and desire of renewal, faithful Christians better understand the fundamental need to lead a life lived to the full.

4. In the same way today we have to realize and continually remind all Christians, that it is the faithful Jews, who "sanctify the divine Name" in the world, living in justice and holiness and causing the divine gifts to bear fruit, who are a true witness to the whole world to the destiny of the Jewish people. Hence today in the Church deep research is being done on the permanence of the Jewish people according to the divine plan (cf.above n. I, A, 10, conciliar texts).


1. From the divine plan of salvation, contemplated in faith and love, adoring the divine inscrutable wisdom and majesty, the Church derives the awareness of the absolute necessity constitutive of her mission in the world among peoples. She shares the anxiety that already existed in the earliest beginnings of the Church itself (cf. 1 Cor 9: 16: "Woe is me if I do notannounce the Gospel!"), which is never absent, and has been reaffirmed clearly by Vatican II (cf. Lumen Gentium; Ad Gentes; Christus Dominus; Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes, and other documents, like Evangelii Nuntiandi, e.g.21,26,41,76).

2. There is first the life lived, and then the messianic missionary proclamation to those who have not yet received the divine salvific Word, or those who unfortunately have not for various reasons responded, and lastly those who, having received it, do not live it and even despise and fight it. But it must be made clear to everyone that, as has often been said, the Church preaches first to herself the reality she has to live, and then carries it to others (cf. above, 1 Cor 9:27; Evangelii Nuntiandi 15), so that the mission may not be contradicted by facts.

3. It cannot be denied that the Church's mission, though coming from the divine will and gifted and guided by divine grace, is carried out by men, and so will never be perfect because of the possible behavior of Christians: their erroneous judgments on facts and men and methods, and the activities that the centuries have shown to contradict the mission itself; their betrayal of the original mission, self-interested view of the mission, lack of respect for the interlocutors and their cultures, and blindness to values in other religions (cf. above, I, B, 3).

4. Vatican II has explicitly examined these facts, recognized prevarications and insufficiencies, excluded what does not correspond with the original biblical mission, urged new methods and behavior more in line with the actual situation of the Church and men of today. She has more than once, especially in the declaration Nostra Aetate, expressed her esteem for the values of other religions and the urgent need to know them and dialogue with them (cf. above).

II. Unwarranted Proselytism is Rejected


1. Many Christians, especially during and after the last war, and with the conciliar experience, have awoken to the fact that after two millennia of misunderstanding, particularly of contempt, and moral, spiritual and physical persecution, the attack on the very existence of the Jewish people as such and because they were Jews, with deliberate diabolical intent (in which Christian responsibility cannot be passed over), make it urgent that a fresh study be made, not only of the destiny, permanence and mission of the Jewish people, but also of general anthropology. Previous contacts with the Jews, and now in a renewed climate the developed possibilities of collaboration in social fields, open up new perspectives that should not be neglected.

2. On October 28, 1965, the Second Vatican Council promulgated the declaration Nostra Aetate on the relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions, in which section 4 is dedicated to relations with the Jews. It is of great importance as the first document of its kind, and its contents definitively approved, though still open to improvement, have given rise to an irreversible movement.

3. On December 1, 1974, this same Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews published its first document to implement Nostra Aetate 4, entitled Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" No. 4. After an introduction this document deals with: Dialogue, Liturgy, Teaching and Education, and Joint Social Action. We refer to this document and to Nostra Aetate 4, as the only complete context. With this, then, a new phase in the relations and action of the Church towards the Jews has opened, geared above all towards eliminating, as far as it is possible today, the numerous and persistent misunderstandings in this field.

4. Here we wish to make a few points on the difficult question of proselytism that has alienated and still alienates so many people.

5. Already, on May 1, 1970 the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches had published their Third Official Report with two annexes: I. Report on the Common Activities of the Joint Working Group, and II. Study Document on Common Witness and Proselytism. It is Appendix II which interests us most. Though dealing with proselytism among various Christian groups, it gives by analogy a good basis for treating every kind of proselytism, with accurate analyses and a new working method. We refer to this document also because for various reasons it had not the effect its importance deserved, and up to now has not had sufficient influence (cf. Service d'Information published by the Secretariat for Christian Unity, No. 14, April 1971/II, pp. 14-24, especially pp. 19-20).

6. Ecumenical experience of the past few years has among other problems brought to the surface the most serious of all, that is, proselytism among Christian Churches themselves and then in relationship to other religions and religious groups.

7. Vatican II itself, especially with its Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, and then in the decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, and in other documents, has studied the problem of proselytism, which ruins relations with other religious groups.

8. First we must distinguish clearly between mission and "Christian witness" (cf. above, on the mission to the world), and "proselytism".

9. "Witness" signifies a variety of realities. From Scripture itself derive various terms that reveal particular aspects of the proclamation of the Gospel in word and act, for example "evangelization", "kerygma", "announcement", "message", "apostolate", "mission", "confession", "testimony", and others. For the above-mentioned Joint Working Group, the most suitable term seemed that of  "witness". By this is understood the permanent action in which the Christian or a Christian community proclaims the action of God in history, and tries to show how with Christ has come the "true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9). Hence, the whole of life: worship, responsible service, proclamation of the Gospel, all, in brief, that is done by Christians under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the salvation of men and to gather them together in the one and only body of Christ (cf. Col 1:18; Eph 1:22-23), tends only towards the gaining of eternal life, which is to know the living God and his messenger Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 17:3). But today even Christian witness leads to possibilities of common action in the limitless sphere of "social" action, where there are endless opportunities for collaboration, so that Christians show in their deeds the face of Christ the Servant (cf. e.g. Unitatis Redintegratio 12; Guidelines and Suggestions IV).

10. Such witnessing that Christians of various denominations tend now to regard as common, runs up against the problem of religious liberty. This expression "religious liberty" is not used here with its full biblical significance (e.g. Rom 8:21; cf. also Gal 5:1). It concerns the primordial inalienable right of physical persons and the community to enjoy social and civil liberty in religious matters. Every person and community has the right to be exempt from constriction on the part of other persons or groups or any human power, whether cultural, economic, political or religious. No person or community should ever be forced for any motive whatever to act against his convictions and his conscience, nor should he ever be prevented from manifesting his faith by teaching, worship, publications, social action. Here we refer to the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (1948) especially article 18.

11. The term "proselytism" in certain linguistic, cultural or denominational contexts has assumed, when unqualified, a pejorative sense. In other contexts, however, when "proselytism" has kept its original meaning of zeal for the propagation of the faith, it should always bequalified, and in the unacceptable sense it should be specified with expressions such as "unwarranted proselytism" or similar terms that indicate clearly reprehensible attitudes and ways of acting that are to be rejected.

12. Here by "unwarranted proselytism" we understand an attitude and action that stands outside Christian witness. It includes, in fact, anything that forces and violates the right of every person or human community to be free from external and internal constrictions in matters of religion, or else embraces ways of proclaiming the Gospel that are not in harmony with God's ways when he invites man to respond freely to his call and to serve him in spirit and in truth (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 39).

13. Therefore, the Church clearly rejects every form of unwarranted proselytism. Excluded, then, is every kind of testimony and preaching that in any way becomes a physical, moral, psychological or cultural constraint on the Jews, as individuals or as a community, that could in any way destroy or even diminish personal judgment, free will, full autonomy to decide, either personal or communitarian.

14. Excluded also is every kind of disqualifying judgment, contempt or prejudice that could be levelled against the Jewish people or individual Jews as such, or against their faith, their worship, their culture in general and their religious culture in particular; against their past and present history, their existence and the meaning of their existence. Excluded also are odious types of discussion, especially those harmful forms already condemned by Nostra Aetate 4 and by Guidelines and Suggestions, which try to exalt the Christian religion or Christianity as such by discrediting Jewish religion and Judaism, whether past or present.

15. We are reminded also of the rejection of any action that aims at changing the religious faith of the Jews, whether in groups, minorities,or individual persons, by making more or less open offers of protection, legal, material, cultural, political and other advantages, using educational or social assistance pretexts. Particularly excluded is any such action or behavior directed towards children, old people, the sick, or adolescents still searchingfor their place in society. Still more is excluded every kind of threat and coercion even when it is indirect or concealed. Liberty of conscience as an inalienable right of the human person and human groups, should therefore be guaranteed from every possible attack and coercion at every level, exterior and interior, physical and moral.

16. Although the times and methods of forced conversion of Jews, of obligatory catechesis and compulsory preaching imposed by the surrounding Christian majority have irreversibly ceased, and indeed have been rejected and deprecated, nevertheless there remains in the religious press and Christian behavior the ever-present latent danger of pressure exercised on individuals or groups of Jews. In a contradictory and blameworthy manner, "conversion" is still expected of them, while at the same time we ourselves are not prepared to strive after "conversion of heart" to God and our brethren.

17. Today, in fact, it is openly acknowledged in the Church, as Vatican II has repeatedly and insistently stressed, that "conversion" understood as the passage from one faith or religious denomination to another is included in the inalienable statute of liberty of religious conscience, as an intangible process in which there is interaction between divine grace and man's response. Indeed no "conversion" is authentic if it does not result in a spiritual deepening in the religious consciousness of the one who, never without distress, takes such a step.

18. For this reason, the temptation to create organizations of any kind, especially for education or social assistance, to"convert" Jews, is to be rejected. On the contrary, we should encourage every effort to gain greater knowledge of the history of Israel, beginning with the Bible, and to explore in depth the existence, history and mission of Israel, her historical survival, her election and call, her privileges recognized in the New Testament (cf. again Rom 9:4-5; 11:29), in the light, if one is a true Christian, of God's message of love and mercy brought by Jesus Christ in the Spirit of God, never failing to listen to what the Jews themselves say (cf. below, on dialogue: Guidelines and Suggestions, Introduction, 5).

19. All this is openly expressed, without mental reservations, in the series of official Church texts (cf. above). Thus should the works be visible and glory be given to the Father (cf. Mt 5:16), so that men may finally discover the face of their brother, bearer of the one common image and likeness of the Omnipotent Lord, who is kind and a rewarder of men (cf. Gen1:26-27).


1. Once more we recall the need the Church has to bear witness, to announce and carry out her mission, as outlined above. This is to be understood and performed with the explicit Christian biblical proclamation (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 22; 29), without ever being tempted to diminish this proclamation (cf. Evang. Nun. 32), and with neither ambiguity nor obscurity (cf. Evang.Nun. 32). This operation is carried out solely in view of the Church's goal which is the glory of the One God, who is in his turn the unique salvation of mankind. Lumen Gentium has set forth clearly for all Christians the theocentric and salvific purpose of the People of God in this world (cf. all Lumen Gentium II).

2. The gift of Christian faith, hope and charity cannot be hidden, but by its works all should perceive the divine Glory, with the Christian awareness that every man who adores the One God is the object of the grace of the Spirit of God, and is not concerned with mere human success.

3. The Catholic Church, therefore, aware of her mission, appears today renewed in spirit and attitude. She is prepared to trust men openly, as she is ready to receive them in actual fact. Her sons desire to be "servants of truth" (Evangelii Nuntiandi 78) and they want to carry out their Christian mission for pure love (Evang. Nun. 79).

4. The already perceptible renewal in action, as has been recalled above, is destined to grow and become more universal, deep and accelerated in the coming years. On the level of organs set up by the Church for relations with other religions, it is possible to grasp the real intentions of the Church herself. The grassroots will be more and more vitally influenced.

III. The Catholic Church and Dialogue

1. Among the most important "novelties" in the Catholic Church today, emerge very clearly the will and attitude of "dialogue" whether with other Christian churches, or the adorers of the God of Abraham (Jews and Muslims), or with the followers of other world religions and—with the necessary distinctions—even with atheists. This will of the Church was set out clearly after the pioneers had done their work in Vatican II assemblies, and it was summed up by Paul VI in his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam (1964). Study and action have brought it to what is now an advanced stage. The principles for initiating dialogue were already set down in detail in Nostra Aetate 4, and then more analytically and practically in Guidelines and Suggestions, especially in the introduction and paragraph I on dialogue.

2. Basic presuppositions for dialogue are respect and acceptance of the "other" in his intangible human, cultural, historical, spiritual and religious reality.

3. Decisive for the development of dialogical awareness between Christians have been the substantial contributions of Jewish thinkers (above all Martin Buber). Their assiduous frequentation of the Bible and hassidic spirituality showed and deepened the meaning of faith in a personal God, creator and savior, from whom alone comes the dignity of the human subject and the reality of his ontological relation with the "other", the community and God.

4. This aura of interpersonal relationships of which the Hebrew Bible is full is not absent in the Christian sections of the Bible itself; in fact it becomes universalized, describing every interhuman relationship in cogent terms of fraternity and service. To respect another man's conscience, above all if it is weak, to carry his burden, feel oneself his debtor, accept him in his existential condition, to meet his deepest desires, respond to his demand for growth and affirmation, all these are categorical imperatives of New Testament morality, which bring dialogue into the very order of existence and daily behavior.

5. It is evident, however, that in such imperatives there is an implicit will to testify and communicate, which is not abstract and doctrinal but very concrete, which does not take the form of dictating or conquest, but is response and participation. It offers men through existential experience the specific contribution of the Christian being. This is to obey the invitation we read of in the New Testament: "Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you, gently, with respect and a sincere conscience" (1 Pet 3:15-16).

6. In this way dialogue becomes one of the main types of communication of the Church with the men of our time. Indeed, it has been noted authoritatively that dialogue is the way of communication par excellence of adult society. Hence it is neither betrayal nor disguise of the essential constitutive mission of the Church and the whole people of God to bear witness to the Glory of God in the world, "to sanctify the Name". Dialogue co-exists, however, with other forms of communication in the Church, such as the permanent evangelization of herself, the proclamation, catechesis, pastoral activity (see above) and mission of evangelization in the strict sense, that is, directed to the building up of a new community of adorers and glorifiers of God in spirit and in truth. But dialogue is essentially an action of giving and receiving, of attentive listening and full response, total respect and generous offering, the whole already expressed in existence before being uttered in words (see above). It is quite clear that this is carried out and developed on various levels that extend from a "thaw" in relationships to sympathy, to deepened knowledge and collaboration in common aims and objectives. Among these last, many practical questions necessary in the social and international fields can be usefully stated and resolved in common dialogued agreement. Hence a long trajectory has begun in which exchanges and interaction should be assiduous, and a clear vision of reciprocity and intercommunication (partage, sharing).

7. Dialogue, to be sincere, demands authentic self-discipline. Every temptation to exclusivism must be eliminated as also any imperialism or self-sufficiency. On the other hand there must be fidelity and dedicated personal searching, avoiding any form of relativism and syncretism that would try artificially to combine irreconcilable elements. Once the spiritual identity of the one and the other is guaranteed, there must be mutual esteem and respect (theological as well), and the conviction that every growth and bettering in the spiritual field comes about with the other's contribution. In this process it sometimes happens that dialogue with the other helps to discover new dimensions and valencies of one's own faith, and above all it teaches how to live it in humility and docility of spirit, looking to the "riches God has given to men" (Ad Gentes 11).

8. A knotty problem inherent in dialogue is the question raised by Paul VI in his discourse on the opening of the Synod of Bishops (September 29, 1974): "How can we reconcile respect of persons and civilizations and sincere dialogue with them . . . with the universalism of the mission Christ entrusted to the Church?" On this point, existence and experience can offer sincere, realistic words and deeds. In general the evangelical message has no intention of destroying what is valid and typical in the religious experience of men of all faiths. It is presented with various biblical images, among others, that of grafting. As such, it does not alienaten or depersonalize, but confers a new dimension that restructures all that has gone before. Besides this, it demands of Christians at the same time conversion and breaking off, while teaching that it is difficult to foresee how there can be peaceful confrontations and separations, restructuration without triumphalism, unless in the knowledge that "he who wants to save his life will lose it, and he who loses it will save it" (cf. Mk 8:35).

9. The central intuitions of other religious faiths may in their turn enrich the Christian, offering him fresh possibilities of expression, arousing in him valencies and potentialities that were formerly latent. But this can come about still more in contact with the Jewish tradition and its exegetical, liturgical and mystical treasures, its religious and philosophical thought.

10. If this is true of other religions in relationship with Christians, how much more is it with the Jewish religion, to which Christians are and remain united by so many unbreakable ties. For this reason, of all dialogue, that with the Jews is and remains for Christians one of singular and exemplary value. Moreover, when Christians enter into dialogue they take up a new attitude, made up mainly of the will and capacity of listening to the Jews who want to speak of themselves and of their vision of reality, and letting themselves be taught, wanting to learn with a grateful heart. Thus will be avoided the harm, even involuntary, of trying to understand Judaism by interpreting it through the projection of categories alien to it.