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As Catholic as the Pope
Pope John Paul II has conducted his pontificate with courage and intuition. He has known how to craft significant ecclesial events and exceptional political accomplishments. His numerous pastoral trips to some “difficult areas”, whether to carry the Church’s word or in response to events which occurred there, verify this as do his intelligently analyzed and courageous social encyclicals. As an example of courage and consistency, his proclamation of the Holy Year in an effort to begin the third millennium in a pastoral manner was a portent of moments of great historical resonance.
The Jubilee arrived and with it the firm conviction of the aged pope who, though physically weak, is extraordinarily dynamic with a spiritual vigor which speaks of pardon and purification of memory, of the need to pardon foreign and domestic debts in the international economy, of a resolute attitude in facing the profound causes of poverty, exclusionism and social injustice. During this time we have been deeply-moved witnesses of the example of the Pope asking pardon of the Jewish people for the part the Church played in the Shoah and in the various painful events of a world immersed in violence.
In his Lenten message, Pope John Paul II said: “The slavery to sin and death that man experiences daily reveals the root causes in his own heart. This was evident in dramatic and unexpected ways during the great tragedies of the Twentieth Century which affected the lives of many communities and persons, victims of violent cruelty. The forced deportations, the systematic elimination of populations, and the contempt of the fundamental rights of persons are tragedies which, still today, cause humanity to feel shame.” (Mar. 8, 2000) And later at the memorial to the victims of the Shoah in Israel: “We remember, but not with any desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes and terrible crimes of the past. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place. The Church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being (cf. Gen 1:26).” (Mar. 23, 2000)
Not a word less. It is a clear, precise, deeply-felt pardon on the part of the universal Church for the crimes of commission or omission by Christians against Jews. It is an attitude worthy of imitation in our own country during the year of Jubilee. This is why we urge everyone, through the title of this article, to simply be “as catholic as the Pope”. As Argentinian and Latin American Christians, we need, as a Church and as an entire community under the direction of its bishops, to imitate with energy and courage the attitude of John Paul II. As a sign of reconciliation, the Church should ask pardon for the injustice, oppression, exclusion and violence which our brothers (sic) have undergone in the course of our history. We are not unaware that many Christians supported and promoted human rights; however, we are also certain that others violated, in the name of God, human dignity and the right to life.
We want to feel part of a compelling Church which asks pardon for the oppression and pain inflicted on the indigenous population of our country who were decimated in northern Argentina and in “Gran Chaco” by arms, hunger or work-related exploitation. A Church which, fully aware of its active commitment to the poor, asks pardon because our country’s extreme concentration of wealth prompts us to acknowledge with sorrow that never before has such a concentration of goods in the hands of so few coexisted with so much hunger and unemployment in Argentina.
We want to feel part of a living Church wounded by the sins committed by its sons in the name of national security and in terrorism of the State; a Church which accompanies the families of the dead and those who disappeared in their fight for truth and justice and in liberating the youth today who were born in captivity. We want to feel part of a living Church which condemns the crimes of assassination attempts against the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA, and the persistent attacks on Jewish cemeteries – a Church which asks itself in what measure our attitude has favored a cultural climate which permits the accumulation of these facts which so fill us with horror.
Finally, we wish to feel ourselves part of a living Church which firmly rejects every act of xenophobia and discrimination, of male chauvinism, of all power or abuse of power in every sphere and which feels itself responsible for many omissions in the work of promoting peace and justice in our pluralistic society.
To sum up: many times during our history, including the history of the Church, homicide, torture, forced disappearance of persons, imprisonment, abduction of children, the extermination of ethnic groups, social injustice, discrimination and the abuse of power were tolerated. These crimes were realized with the participation of Christians and in contradiction to Gospel teaching.
We would like to see a solemn request for pardon in order to feel a living part of an historically honest Church, a Church active in charity and firm in hope. Also in Argentina we should imitate John Paul II and, “as Catholic as the Pope”, purify our memory and honestly admit past faults – as a renewed commitment to Truth and consequently to the respect for the dignity and rights of others, especially the weakest. (cf., Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past, International Theological Commission, Mar. 7, 2000)
The moving article of Mario Rojzman, Rabbi of Bet-Elwood, shows us the way. Following the example of John Paul II he asks pardon for the faults of Judaism within and beyond our country. And the pages of The Church and the National Community, document by the Episcopal Conference of Argentina, is a precious antecedent which calls the Church to face history with honesty. In our mind, this should be taken up again during this Holy Year.
* Carlos Eroles is a social worker and teaches at the National University of Buenos Aires and General San Martin. He is involved in pastoral social work in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. He is author of several books on the social doctrine of the Church, on social work with families, and on human rights. His article appeared in Criterio, No. 2250, V/2000 and is reprinted here with permission. It has been translated from Spanish and French.