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Reflections on repentance – Jerusalem
An Interview with Bruno Hussar O.P.
This interview was published in the review of the Association C.OE.U.R, France
In the light of your experience of living as a Christian in Israel, how do you understand "repentance" with a view to reconciliation between the two peoples? Aware of the deep wounds within the three monotheistic religions, what have you to say to the members of C.OE.U.R. in terms of your experience of sorrow, suffering and seeming impossibility?
I think that the first step towards reconciliation is to recognise the truth of the relations that have so far existed, but we must not stop there; we must go forward as Pope Paul VI did after the Second Vatican Council. In the Church of St. Pauls outside-the-Walls in Rome, he asked pardon of the Protestants for all the wrongs that Catholics have done them and for the part the Church played in the Wars of Religion. This made possible a real ecumenical effort in the Church because it recognised its responsibilities in the hatred that existed between Catholics and Protestants.
We must do the same with regard to the Jewish people - much more, I would say, in the light of history. Obviously some people will say: "But what have we done to the Jews?" When we know the history of the persecution of Jews by Christians, by Bishops, by the Heads of Churches; when we know the consequences of what Jules Isaac calls "the teaching of contempt in our catechisms; when we know what really happened, how can we fail to be ashamed that people of our own faith, belonging to our Church could so disfigure the Gospel of Jesus Christ? How could Christians live in a way so opposed to the Gospel? I know the answer: "I, personally have done nothing", but are we certain that to-day we are doing nothing? That there is no longer any Christian anti- semitism, more or less hidden? There is still much evidence of contempt, of preconceived ideas about Jews.
However, even if I personally have done nothing, I know young Germans who are aware of what Hitler did to the Jews. They admit the reality of the Holocaust, the extermination of six million men, women and children. They are young, they took no part in it, yet they are ashamed for their country, ashamed that such a thing could happen. We must distinguish between responsibility and culpability. Although we may not be culpable personally because we were not alive at the time, by the mere fact of belonging to a culpable body we have some responsibility for the actions of this
body. I can want the body that we call "the mystical body of Christ" to make reparation for the evil it has done, or at least to acknowledge this evil. I can want Christians to acknowledge that they have sinned, as the Jews do on Yom Kippur when they examine a list of sins: "I have killed, lied, been jealous..." No person who recites these prayers has committed all the sins mentioned, but all are members of a body, the Jewish people, in which each sin has been committed by somebody. This recitation is part of the Yom Kippur liturgy where all recite the list, even though not guilty of every sin. Each one asks pardon because each one is aware of belonging to a body that has committed these sins. They ask pardon as a body.
I think the same is true for Christians with regard to Jews: we are a body in which each member may not be personally guilty but each member bears collective responsibility. We want this body to which we belong to be purified from all its past sins; true pardon can purify.
However, even when we acknowledge the evil we have done it will be difficult for the Jew to accept this admission because he has suffered too much. Reconciliation will be difficult because a wounded person suffers when his wounds are exposed. Meanwhile generations succeed one another but the fact that the Church asked for forgiveness will be remembered. By doing this doors are opened to all future ecumenical approaches. When forgiveness has not been sought there can be no sincere reflection or prayer in common. We may talk, discuss, have interesting theological dialogue, but the essential condition for true dialogue is that the Church asks pardon officially and from the heart.