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SIDIC Periodical XXXIV - 2001/1
One Year Later (Pages 6)

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

Let the Ideal Supercede the Particular
Rosen, David


The historic pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II in the Holy Land involved numerous people and numerous relationships: the local Catholic Church, a variety of Christian communities, the relationship between the Jewish and Christian communities, the relationship between Christians and Muslims, the dialogue among three different religions, the rapport of the Holy See with the diverse entities of national politics, the transmission of a message of peace, a message of reconciliation among all faiths and people of the region.

The Papal visit in Jewish-Israeli society has had a positive impact in every possible way. To appreciate this we must remember that the Israelis do not live in a Christian world. They do not even know who the Christians are. For instance when they travel internationally they meet Jews rather than Christians. The Christian faith is not part of their everyday life. Therefore Israelis retain a negative idea based on the past. Having no familiarity with Christians, they have ignored the Vatican II Ecumenical Council and the Nostra Aetate document as well as the enormous progress between Jews and Catholics over the past 35 years. After the establishing of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See in 1994 the majority of documents regarding Jews and Judaism were translated into Hebrew to be read by Israelis. This helped them to view with open eyes the Papal visit which profoundly recognized the heritage of Israeli Jews, their history and their people.

At the Western Wall and during the visit to Yad Vashem it was the Pope’s visible emotion which revealed his deep identification with the victims of the Shoah. The Israeli media had made a great effort to publicize John Paul II’s personal life and to emphasize the goodness of his efforts which was witnessed during his encounter with the Jews at Yad Vashem. The Jewish community and the entire world observed the Pope’s sense of reverence and good will toward the Jewish faith when, while praying intensely at the Western Wall, he left the prayer from the liturgy at St Peter’s Basilica on March 12, 2000 expressing the Christian request for pardon from the Jewish people for all the sins committed against them over the course of centuries.

Israelis are reciprocating the good will and respect demonstrated by the Pope by beginning to understand that the Christian Church is not hostile to the Jewish State. Indeed the Church is specifically pursuing a rapport with the people whom the Pope calls “the dear older brother of the original covenant never revoked by God”. The trip in the Holy Land will be therefore be remembered as a historic moment of enlightenment in which John Paul II had a prominent and unique role.

If there was a sad note it would probably be the interreligious meeting at the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute which revealed the many difficulties such interreligious initiatives face due to highly regarded regional policies relating to religious guidelines and institutions. John Paul II remarked as well during the meeting with various Christian communities that cooperation and dialogue among Christians is difficult.

The major difficulty faced by interreligious dialogue in the Middle East is the fact that religious leadership among Jews and Muslims has political connotations. However, there is some interreligious dialogue in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel but only because it is promoted by Christians and Jews from the Western world or by scholars who have studied there.

There is evidence of a slow but sure growth of awareness of this new rapport of peace. The visit of Pope John Paul II has been a tremendous incentive for those of us who work in the interreligious field. Above all, it has demonstrated the need to overcome the animosities in this society through the virtue of love. It is time to give precedence to the ideals of our faith to sanctify God’s name throughout the world.


* Rabbi David Rosen is Director of the Israel office of the Anti-Defamation League and ADL Co-Liaison to the Vatican. This column is a translation from Italian and is reprinted, with permission, from L’Osservatore Romano, March 22, 2000.


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