Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East

Dialogika Resources

The Catholic Church in The Middle East: Communion and Witness (excerpt)

A special Synod of Bishops will meet in the Vatican on October 10-24 to discuss the Catholic Church in the Middle East. Below are excerpts from the preparatory working document concerning the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism and Islam. The text refers to responses received from the bishops to a December 2009 survey. The complete 51-page document may be accessed HERE

D. Relations with Judaism

1. Vatican II: The Theological Basis for Relations with Judaism

85. The subject of the relations of the Catholic Church with Judaism, whose theological basis is found in the Second Vatican Council, must be part of the discussion at the synodal assembly. The Church’s relations with non-Christian religions are specifically treated in the Declaration Nostra aetate, a major portion of which is dedicated to the People of Abraham’s Stock. This important document reassesses the greatness of the shared spiritual patrimony, uniting Christians and Jews, and promotes mutual understanding and respect, through biblical and theological studies as well as fraternal dialogue.26

86. The spirit of the aforementioned conciliar declaration, however, must be taken in the wider context provided by two dogmatic constitutions from the same Council, namely, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium and The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum. In the first document, the treatment of various images of the Church in the New Testament is preceded by their prefigurements in the Old Testament27 and the Church as The People of God is presented as that of the New Covenant in continuity with the People of the Old Testament.28 Above all, however, the Church, in listing the peoples related to the People of God, clearly displays her benevolence and good will in her relations with the Jews, by giving “first place (to) that people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.”29

87. The second document, Dei Verbum, also refers to the Old Testament as a preparation for the Gospel30 and an integral part of the history of salvation,31 thereby showing the importance for the Church of the Jewish people as the bearers of the first covenant. This brief theological exposition indicates how essential for the Church is the dialogue with her “elder brothers”, which at times is not without its obstacles.

2. The Present-Day Magisterium of the Church

88. These theological-pastoral principles serve as the basis for the various initiatives towards dialogue which the Church has made in recent times. Among these are: the establishment in Jerusalem of the Interreligious Council of Religious Institutions and the Latin Patriarchate’s Commission for Dialogue with the Jews, and the dialogue at the level of the Holy See with the Grand Rabbinate of Israel.32 The document of the Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism33 is also a clear sign of the Church’s position in relation to the Jewish People.

89. Christian-Jewish relations are affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this regard, the Holy Father, during his Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, clearly expressed the position of the Holy See in two welcoming ceremonies. In Bethlehem, 13 May 2009, he said: “Mr President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognized borders”34, and in his discourse at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, 11 May 2009, he expressed the wish that “both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders.”35

3. The Desire and Difficulty of Dialogue with Judaism

90. The responses to the Lineamenta, which echo the above sentiments, display certain subtleties on the subject of the Church’s relations with Judaism, arising from a diversity of cultural, geographic and social factors. In this regard, while clearly rejecting anti-Semitism, oftentimes expressed in a variety of ways, they also state that everywhere in the Church in the Middle East the religious sentiment in anti-Judaism has been overcome, at least in theory, by the pastoral guidelines of the Second Vatican Council. Instead, the actual animosity between Arabs and Jews seem to be political in character, due to the situation of conflict and the resulting political hostility. At the same time, widespread opinion seems to indicate that anti-Zionism is more a political position and, consequently, to be considered foreign to every ecclesial discourse. In all these situations, Christians are asked to bring a spirit of reconciliation, based on justice and equality of the two parties. The Churches in the Middle East also call upon all involved to take into account the distinction between the religious reality and the political one.

91. Various responses mention pastoral initiatives to open dialogue with Judaism. Though limited to the local level and small groups, these initiatives reveal nonetheless a conscious effort towards dialogue on the part of the faithful and their Pastors. In this regard, a primary place is given to prayer in common, principally the psalms, and the reading and meditation on biblical texts. Prayer opens people’s hearts and permits petitioning the Holy Spirit for the gifts of peace, mutual respect, reconciliation and mutual pardon and assistance in building good interreligious relations.

92. Some responses indicate, however, that this initiative can pose problems, because, as noted, certain biblical verses can be subject to interpretation according to a “culture of violence”. Nevertheless, other responses clearly state that reading the Old Testament necessarily leads to a better knowledge and appreciation of the Jewish religion. In this regard, two important documents from the Pontifical Biblical Commission on the reading of Sacred Scripture should not be overlooked, namely, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (15 April 1993) and The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (24 May 2001).36

93. The desire and intention to examine thoroughly the traditions of Judaism through serious historical and theological study, especially on the university level in theological faculties, deserves commendation. Such studies, in the first place, could also lead to a more accurate knowledge of various Eastern ecclesiastical traditions in relation to the history of Jewish traditions. Secondly, the aforementioned studies and research could also contribute to a better knowledge of the New Testament.

94. Every Jewish reality today can provide opportunities for collaboration. For this reason, the Patriarchal Vicariate for Hebrewspeaking Christians is of great assistance. Some responses speak of the importance of the Patriarchal Vicariate in Jerusalem as well as the Catholic Eastern Churches sui iuris. Others voice the desire to live together peacefully in society, thereby permitting a collaborative effort in working towards peace in the region.

E. Relations with Muslims

95. The Catholic Church’s relations with Muslims also have a foundation in the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra aetate which, among other things, states: “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men.”37 This understanding has served as the basis for the numerous meetings among the representatives of the two religions at diverse levels which have taken place over the years, since the Second Vatican Council. His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, at the beginning of his pontificate, reinforced the importance to continue these relations. In his meeting with representatives of various Muslim communities in Germany, the Holy Father said: “Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.”38 In this regard, two gestures of Pope Benedict XVI bear a certain significance: his visits to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, 20 November 2006 and the Al-Hussein Bin Talai Mosque, in Amman, Jordan, on 11 May 2009.

The responses make reference to the importance of Catholic-Muslim dialogue promoted by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and voice the desire that this dialogue be increasingly widened to include all classes of the Muslim faithful.

96. Several principles guide relations between Christians and Muslims. On the one hand, we are citizens of the same country and homeland, sharing the same language and culture, not to mention the same fortunes and misfortunes of our countries. On the other, Christians are members of the society in which they live, and work on its behalf as witnesses of Christ and the Gospel. During his Apostolic Visit to the Holy Land, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, added another principle: “Notwithstanding our diverse origins, we have common roots [...] Islam too was born in a world where both Judaism and the various branches of Christianity: Judeo-Christianity, Antiochene Christianity, and Byzantine Christianity were all present, and all these circumstances are reflected in the Koranic tradition, with the result that we have much in common in terms of our origins and our faith in the one God. So it is important on the one hand to have bilateral dialogues – with the Jews and with Islam – and then also trilateral dialogue.”39 The rich patrimony of Christian-Arab literature also has particular importance in the Church’s dialogue with Muslims.

Oftentimes, relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult, principally because Muslims makes no distinction between religion and politics, thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they were citizens of their countries long before the rise of Islam. The key to harmonious living between Christians and Muslims is to recognise religious freedom and human rights.

97. Christians are called upon to involve themselves, in ever more authentic ways, in the societies in which they live. They should avoid isolating themselves in ghettos and a defensive and reclusive attitude which is sometimes seen in minority groups. Many believers emphasise that Christians and Muslims must work together to promote social justice, peace and freedom and to defend human rights and the values of life and family.

98. Consequently, we must prepare for the future by educating the younger generations in schools and universities. To do this, some responses suggest that educational texts be revised, especially materials for teaching religion, so as to eliminate all prejudices and stereotypes concerning others. Young people must also undertake activities in common – Muslims and Christians together – which serve society and lead to establishing true friendship among them. As a result, religion will bring people together and not be a source of division.

99. The dialogue of “truth in charity” (Ep 4:15) does not mean adopting another’s faith but seeking a mutual understanding of viewpoints, all the while acknowledging that our dogmas are profoundly different. This dialogue in truth leads us to a mutual understanding and creates an open space of freedom and respect. The same dialogue in truth impels us to not only appreciate all that is positive in Muslim teachings and morality, especially their firm belief in God, but also respect for their convictions.



26. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions Nostra aetate, 4.

27. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, 6.

28. Cf. ibid., 9.

29. Cf. ibid., 16.

30. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 3.

31. Cf. ibid., 14.


33. Cf. COMMISSION FOR RELIGIOUS RELATIONS WITH JUDAISM, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (16 March 1998): L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly
Edition in English
, 18 March 1998, p. 6,7.

34. BENEDICT XVI, Discourse at the Welcoming Ceremonies in Bethlehem (13 May 2009), Pilgrimage to the Holy Land: L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 20 May 2009, p. 11.

35. BENEDICT XVI, Discourse at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv (11 May 2009), Pilgrimage to the Holy Land: L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 20 May 2009, p. 3.

36. Cf. PONTIFICAL BIBLICAL COMMISSION, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (April 15, 1993): Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1993; The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (May 24, 2001): Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 2001.

37. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions Nostra aetate, 3.

38. BENEDICT XVI, Discourse during a Meeting with Representatives of Various Muslim Communities (20 August 2005), Cologne, Germany: L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 24 August 2005, p. 9.

39. BENEDICT XVI, Interview during the Flight to the Holy Land (8 May 2009), Pilgrimage to the Holy Land: L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 13 May 2009, p. 2.