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SIDIC Periodical XXXIV - 2001/1
One Year Later (Pages 21-25)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French



Joint Reflection by the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops’ Committee
for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, USA, Nov. 20, 2000

As Catholic and Jewish leaders, we wish to express our concern over environmental health hazards adversely affecting the health of children. Children are especially vulnerable to their environment and deserve special concern from their society. They are, we believe, “a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Ps 127:3). The rabbis of the Talmud centuries ago interpreted the biblical words, “Blessed is the one who does righteousness at all times” (Ps 106:3), as referring to one who gives proper attention to the welfare of their children when they are young (Ketuboth 50a), making the raising and protection of children of paramount importance for the religious community.

Jews and Christians infused with the spirit of the Psalms view nature as a living testimony of a living God, as the Talmud states: “One who goes out in the spring and views the trees in bloom must recite “Blessed is God who left nothing lacking in God’s world, and created beautiful trees for humanity to glory in” (Berakhot 43a).(1)

With the praise of God comes moral responsibility, as an ancient rabbinic tale teaches: “When the Holy One, Blessed be He, created Adam, He took him to survey all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “See how beautiful and superior are my works and all that I created for you. Take heed not to corrupt and destroy my world, for if you corrupt it, there is none who can repair it after you (Koheleth Rabbah).

Decisions about how we use the environment, and about the environmental health risks to which we expose our children, have a distinct moral dimension for the Church as well. Pope John Paul II has strongly stated that the “state has the responsibility of ensuring that its citizens are not exposed to dangerous pollutants or toxic wastes. The right to a safe environment is ever more insistently presented today as a right.”(2)

While our country has made significant progress in reducing air pollution and providing clean water over the last several decades, further efforts are needed to ensure safety. This is particularly true in the areas of lead and pesticide poisoning which can lead to damage to the nervous system and to immunity, and for air pollution which can lead to asthma and other breathing problems. While all children are at some risk from exposure, we express a special concern for children from low income families, who share a disproportionate risk and burden from environmental hazards.

We recognize that children are not “little adults”. Children have different patterns of exposure to environmental contaminants and also respond differently to them than adults. Additionally, children’s normal behavior puts them at increased risk for exposure to toxic substances that may cause debilitating or life threatening health problems. Children, for example, tend to be outdoors more than adults and consequently have greater exposure to pesticides or air pollutants. Infants and toddlers have more exposure to substances in floors, carpeting, and soil.
The ability of children’s bodies to cope with harmful substances is also significantly less than that of adults. Young children breathe more rapidly and inhale more air in proportion to their body weight than do adults. They have higher metabolic rates, drink more fluid, and consume more calories for their body weight. If the air children breathe or the food they consume contains toxic substances, they will receive a larger dose than would adults. Further, because their metabolic systems are not yet mature, they have less ability to detoxify and excrete harmful substances than do adults.

As leaders in the Jewish and Catholic communities, we strongly support efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us, who certainly include the children of our nation. Because of our common concern for and desire to protect our children, we encourage our Jewish and Catholic people at the local and national level to work together to help make our environment safe for children. We urge that this interfaith endeavor will lend special assistance to poorer communities who may not have the resources to address these concerns adequately. We pray together that God Who created this bountiful and beautiful world and Who gives and sustains our lives will enable us and others of good will to provide a safe physical environment for all children.

Joint Social Action Recommendations :

• Create a coalition of key individuals and groups in your community to assist in assessing its “environmental health”. Potential members include pediatricians, nurses, health department officials, child advocacy groups, PTAs, and environmental, youth, civil, business, academic and religious groups.

• Educate community and school leaders about children’s special vulnerability to toxins, and families about using fewer toxins in their homes, yards and neighborhoods.

• Support “right to know” laws to enable families, schools and communities to learn about their children’s exposure to toxic chemicals and products.

• Work with existing community groups who are environmentally concerned. Map your community’s known or potential hazards (e.g., dump sites, incinerators, superfund sites, major industry). Check the Toxic Release Inventory (TRA) data available to the public. Work with local industry and government to reduce emissions, clean up sites, etc.

• Religious educators can communicate the ethical and moral dimensions of this issue from the perspective of Catholic and Jewish social teaching.

• Advocate the development of a national warning system for environmental health risks. While the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has monitored lead levels in human blood over the years, to good effect, it does not monitor for other dangerous pollutants.

Joint Statement by the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops’ Committee
for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, USA, Nov. 20, 2000

As religious leaders of the Catholic and Jewish communities in the United States, we are alarmed by a wave of attacks on synagogues and Jews that have occurred in North America and Europe in the past several weeks. Scores of acts of vandalism and numerous personal assaults have been reported.

We condemn any acts of desecration of holy places or deeds of verbal or physical violence that threaten any person’s ability to practice their religion freely. Such actions we repudiate as sinful and offensive to God according to both the Christian and Jewish traditions.
The words declared by Pope John Paul II during a Christian-Jewish-Muslim interreligious dialogue in Jerusalem on March 23, 2000 speak to people of all faiths: “ A religion is not, and must not become, an excuse for violence, particularly when religious identity coincides with cultural and ethnic identity. Religion and peace go together! Religious belief and practice cannot be separated from the defense of the image of God in every human being.”

Regardless of any connections of this upsurge in religious hatred to the present conflict in the Middle East, the end of which we pray for fervently, there is no justification whatsoever for the violation of any people’s religious liberties. Nor can anyone excuse despicable acts by appeals to religion. It is the particular responsibility of all religious leaders, wherever they may be, to uphold the biblical truth that every human being is created in the Image of God and so possesses an inviolable right to religious freedom.

The Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs reminds all Catholics that “the Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, color, condition in life or religion” (Nostra Aetate, 5). Since Jews were the targets of the recent spate of hateful deeds, we reiterate to all the faithful that “anti-Semitism is a sin against God and humanity” (Pope John Paul II, Nov. 16, 1990) and that the Church “deplores the hatred, persecutions and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone” (Nostra Aetate, 4).

The Jewish community has learned from bitter historical experience the cost to civility and religious values when the religious institutions of any community can be targeted without voices of conscience decrying and condemning such actions. “Do not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor” (Lev 19). The value of Ampnei darchei shalom (“for the sake of the ways of peace”) teaches us to accord to all the benefits, rights, and protections accorded to any. For those reasons, the Jewish community has long spoken out against the desecration of any house of worship and against efforts to divide any community by pitting religious groups against one another.

As Catholics and Jews we have a solemn duty to oppose religious hatred, to assist the proper authorities if incidents of religious intolerance occur, and to stand in solidarity with any victims of such bigotry.



Celebrating the Great Jubilee of the Savior, the Catholic Church in Poland together with the Universal Church rejoices in the salvation of the world and invites everyone to share in this joy. One of the most important obligations inherent in this time is Christian conversion, which requires reconciliation with God and with one another. Reconciliation and brotherhood are particularly to be desired where painful, scandalous divisions, discord and sometimes dramatic tensions, conflicts and even fighting have taken place. In the context of the preparations for the solemn celebration of the Great Jubilee, the Universal Church has undertaken the arduous task of purification of memory. The Catholic Church in Poland has embraced this process. In the Holy Year which is a time of reconciliation and grace, once again we turn to the past to be able to proclaim ever more effectively and fruitfully the reconciliation between God and humankind obtained for us by Christ, and to shape the present and the future in the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus.

The Bishops of the Catholic Church in Poland feel particularly compelled to take up the matter of purification of memory and reconciliation. Constantly undertaking dialogue, always and with everyone, is a distinctive feature of the Church, indicating that dialogue is not an optional attitude, but an obligation of Christ’s followers. It is the mother tongue of humanity. “Before all else, dialogue is a manner of acting, attitude; a spirit which guides one’s conduct. It implies concern, respect, and hospitality toward the other. It leaves room for the other person’s identity, modes of expression, and values. Dialogue is thus the norm and necessary manner of every form of Christian mission, as well as of every aspect of it, whether one speaks of simple presence and witness, service or direct proclamation. Any sense of mission not permeated by such a spirit of dialogue would go against the demands of true humanity and against the teachings of the Gospel.” (Statement of the Secretariat for Non-Christians, VI, 1989) It is important for us to be able and to want to bring this mission to reality, not only for us, but, while fully preserving our own identity and with mutual respect, also together with those of other faiths.


Our thoughts turn first to the Jewish people, because of the many and profound ties that bind us to them. (Nostra Aetate, 4) “The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion” (John Paul II, Speech in the Synagogue of Rome, April 13, 1986). For years, the Catholic Church in Poland has been making efforts to find ways of reconciliation with the people of Israel, called by God to “an irrevocable vocation”, reconciliation with a people who still “are the object of God’s love.” (Rm 11:27-29) This faithful love of God is a guarantee and tangible sign of His love for every human being, constantly in need of forgiveness and inner renewal. We Christians also benefit from this because we, too, are unfaithful and our transgressions demand contrition and conversion. Conscious of God’s merciful love and of the special grace that we can obtain during the Great Jubilee, we are urged to join in the examination of conscience as the Church in Poland which, in the person of the Primate, has asked forgiveness for the attitude of those among us who have disdained persons of other denominations or have tolerated anti-Semitism. We believe that the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church in Poland will undertake this particular act, individually, that is, in their own conscience, as well as collectively, in their communities of faith.

The drama of the Holocaust has cast a shadow on the history and identity of contemporary Jews. The extermination of several million men, women and children, conceived and implemented by German National Socialists, was executed mainly in occupied Poland, on territory governed by the Germans. From the perspective of the passage of many years we have become even more conscious of that unspeakable drama of the Jewish nation. In connection with this, we once again recall the memorable letter of the Polish Episcopate, issued on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate, and read on the 20th of January 1991 in all churches in our homeland. The generation of those who participated in and witnessed the Second World War and the Holocaust is passing away. The memory of what happened then must be preserved in a faithful and dignified way and passed on to future generations. In the spirit of the Jubilee’s act of penance, we must realize that along with noble efforts by Poles to rescue many Jewish lives, there are also our sins from that period: indifference or enmity towards Jews. Everything must be done to rebuild and deepen Christian solidarity with the people of Israel so that never and nowhere can a similar tragedy happen again. It is also necessary to effectively overcome all expressions of “anti-Jewishness, anti-Judaism (that is, animosity stemming from erroneous interpretations of Church teachings), and anti-Semitism (that is, hatred based on nationalistic or racial motives) that existed and exists among Christians. We expect that anti-Polonism will be fought with equal determination.

Anti-Semitism, like anti-Christian attitudes, is a sin and as such has been rejected along with other forms of racism by the teachings of the Catholic Church. The pilgrimage of the Holy Father John Paul II to the Holy Land in the year of the Great Jubilee has demonstrated and set an example for us of these perspectives and possibilities. Its most profound message allows the hope to revive that both Jews and Christians can courageously embark upon the road marked by John Paul II during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in his address at Yad Vashem: “Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather a shared mutual respect, required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord and look to Abraham as our common father in faith.” (cf., We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah) We trust that the sons and daughters of the Church in Poland will undertake, each one, individually and in their own consciences, that particular act of the Primate of Poland of May 20, 2000, which is supposed to help “to purify and to perceive everything that can be pleasing to God and to prepare the way of reciprocal prayer.”


An important place in the Jubilee reflection and celebrations is accorded to the dialogue of the Church with other religions. Its significance and role increase in importance in light of the threats brought on by secularization as well as by the persecutions of Christians in some Islamic countries. Facing these, we have been called upon to give credible witness to the One God, Creator of the universe and of every human being. Our most important religious duty is to worship and praise God and to give thanks for all the manifestations of his benevolence, in particular for the possibility of giving witness to Jesus Christ before all peoples.

One of the most urgent signs of cooperation is the practice of the commandment to love one’s neighbor. In a world which is becoming more unified, in which people of different religions increasingly live beside one another, mutual respect, solidarity and cooperation promote the development of the common good. For a Christian, the mystery of the Incarnation, the solemn Jubilee of which we are celebrating, is a matter of fundamental importance. In a speech in Jerusalem on March 23, 2000, Pope John Paul II said that the love of one’s neighbor “is based on a conviction that when we love our neighbor we are showing love for God, and when we hurt our neighbor we offend God. This means that religion is the enemy of exclusion and discrimination, of hatred and rivalry, violence and conflict.” (Speech given at the Interreligious Meeting, Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame)

In our relations with believers of different religions in Poland, we wish to make our own the words which the Holy Father addressed to religious leaders in Jerusalem: “Drawing upon the riches of our respective religious traditions, we must spread awareness that today’s problems will not be solved if we remain ignorant of one another and isolated from one another. We are all aware of past misunderstandings and conflicts, and these still weigh heavily upon relationships between Jews, Christians and Moslems. We must do all we can to turn the awareness of past offenses and sins into a firm resolve to build a new future in which there will be nothing but respectful and fruitful cooperation between us.” This determination and this task also involve all the faithful of the Catholic Church in Poland. Only an attitude of dialogue allows us to rightly recognize that which is good and holy in the beliefs and lives of other people and fosters a harmonious cooperation for the good of all of us. The Jubilee, as expressed in the wish of Pope John Paul II is a wonderful occasion “for fruitful cooperation in the many areas which unite us; these are unquestionably more numerous than those which divide us.” (TMA, 16)


Dialogue with non-believers remains an urgent and difficult challenge. In this regard the situation in Poland has its own, specific aspects. Conditions and past events typical of former communist-bloc countries still reverberate. For several decades we were subjected to a state-ordered secularization, indoctrination and atheism which have caused tremendous damage in people’s hearts, minds and consciences, not to mention people who were their victims during the Stalinist period. We will continue to feel the effects for a long time. This does not facilitate our relations with non-believers, many of whom were actively involved in that process. We cannot forget, however, that many non-believers became involved in the defense of human rights, including the right of religious freedom, during the totalitarian period, and that, a long time before our country embarked upon the road of profound sociopolitical transformation, a dialogue between the Church and secular humanists had been initiated.

The publication of the guidelines addressed to pastors in the summer of 1999 was a sign of the Church’s commitment once again to undertake the responsibilities and take up the challenges of this area. The Committee of the Episcopate for Dialogue with Non-believers reiterated in these guidelines that all human beings, irrespective of their attitude towards faith, are children of God. This constitutes the very foundation of their greatness and dignity.

Many people who are non-believers today were once members of the Church. Oftentimes they had been hurt and they left discouraged, with a feeling of having been wronged by representatives of the Church. Today, in the year of the Great Jubilee, we deeply regret these cases when people of the Church failed to show love towards non-believers. This reminds us of the fact that the Church on earth is endowed already with sanctity that is real although imperfect. (CPC, 825)

Let us also remember that believers are the ones who mirror the image of the Church in the eyes of non-believers. The appropriate relationship to non-believers should be based on the Gospel, that is, expressing itself in love, brotherhood and respect. Although the Church totally rejects the atheistic perspective, she nevertheless enters into a dialogue with those who have made a different choice in life, out of a common concern for the world in which believers and non-believers live together. For the Creator Himself out of His great love endowed humankind with freedom.

Both believers and non-believers are called upon to take joint actions for the benefit of local communities, one’s country and world. Care for the poor and needy, for social justice and peace, countering social and economic inequalities, concern for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence of people of different cultures and philosophies of life, as well as respect for the dignity of every woman and man, for married life, the family, youth and formation – these are examples of actions which can and should unite and bring closer together Christians and non-believers, in Poland also.


We write these words, recalling at the same time Poland’s centuries-old tradition of building tolerance and mutual concern for one another, to which the Church has made her great contribution. Because, however, in the more recent and more distant past, this tradition was subjected to difficult trials, we ask forgiveness of those who have in whatever circumstances experienced on our part a lack of understanding, rejection and suffering, which stemmed from our forgetting the fundamental truth that we are all children of the One God. In so doing, we are not motivated by political reasons, nor by any other objectives or benefits, but by a profound need of the heart, born of Gospel values. This is our response to the appeal of Pope John Paul II “that in this year of mercy the Church, strong in holiness which she received from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters.” (Bulla Incarnationis Mysterium, 11) We act in the hope that our attitude and gestures will be properly understood and accepted as an appeal addressed to God and to people for reconciliation, for cooperation in all things which unite people of good will.


1 See Jonathan Helfand, “Consider the Work of God: Jewish Sources for Conservation Ethics”, in Daniel Polish and Eugene Fisher, eds., Liturgical Foundations of Social Policy in the Catholic and Jewish Traditions (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983) 134-148.
2 John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, World Day of Peace Message, Jan. 1, 1990, No. 9.
3. Approved by the 307 Plenary Meeting of the Conference of Polish Bishops, Jasna Gora, Aug. 25, 2000.


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