Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

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Highlights of John Paul II’s Papacy Concerning Catholic-Jewish Relations

Some Highlights of John Paul II’s Papacy Concerning Catholic-Jewish Relations

  • October 16, 1978, Rome – Cardinal Karol Wojtyla is elected pope and takes the name John Paul II.
  • October, 1978 – At a reception at the Vatican, the new pope’s first audience is given to his boyhood Jewish friend, Jerzy Kluger. (The Hidden Pope, by Darcy O’Brien, page 6)
  • March 12, 1979 – Greeting representatives of Jewish organizations at the Vatican, he says that the Second Vatican Council “understood that our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their respective religious identities. … It is on the basis of all this that we recognize with utmost clarity that the path along which we should proceed with the Jewish religious community is one of fraternal dialogue and fruitful collaboration.” (Pope John Paul II, Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews and Judaism 1979 - 1995, Crossroad, New York, 1995, page 4).
  • June 7, 1979, Auschwitz – he declares that no one can look on the Nazi genocide of Jews with indifference. “In particular, I pause with you dear participants in this encounter, before the inscription in Hebrew. This inscription awakens the memory of the people whose sons and daughters were intended for total extermination. This people draws its origin from Abraham, our father in faith …. The very people who received from God the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ itself experienced in a special measure what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference.” (Spiritual Pilgrimage, page 7).
  • November 17, 1980, Mainz – In his address to the West German Jewish community, Pope John Paul observes that, “The first dimension of [our] dialogue, that is, the meeting between the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God [cf. Rom. 11:29], and that of the New Covenant, is at the same time a dialogue within our Church, that is to say, between the first and the second part of her Bible.” (Spiritual Pilgrimage, page 15).
  • April 13, 1986, Rome – In his address during his historic visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, Pope John Paul says, “…the Church of Christ discovers her ‘bond’ with Judaism by ‘searching into her own mystery.’ The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.” (Spiritual Pilgrimage, page 63).
  • May 9, 1989 - Pope John Paul remembers the Jews of his hometown, Wadowice, “who were victims of persecution and were exterminated by the Nazis.” The pope asks his boyhood Jewish friend, Jerzy Kluger, to represent him at the unveiling of the commemorative plaque on the site of the destroyed Wadowice synagogue. (See Letter to a Jewish Friend, by Gian Franco Svidercoschi, Crossroad, New York, 1994.)
  • December 30, 1993, Rome and Jerusalem – formal diplomatic relations are established between the Holy See and Israel.
  • April 7, 1994 - Concert in the Vatican commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.
  • October 31, 1997 - In a letter to the participants in a symposium on the theme of “The Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian Environment,” Pope John Paul writes, “In the Christian world … erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability [for the crucifixion of Jesus] have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility toward this people.”
  • March 12, 2000, Rome – On the First Sunday of Lent in the new millennium, Pope John Paul prays publicly to God for forgiveness of Christian sins against Jews during the past millennium. “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring Your name to the nations:  we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer and asking Your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.” 
  • March 21 – 26, 2000, Israel – Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to Israel.
  • March 23, 2000, Jerusalem – During his talk in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, Pope John Paul states, “In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.
    “My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the war. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbors, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain.
    “Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children, cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.
    “We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.”
  • March 26, 2000, Jerusalem – Pope John Paul prays at the Western Wall, formally committing the Catholic Church “to genuine fellowship with the people of the Covenant.” He places a copy of the text of the prayer for forgiveness (from the prayer service in Rome on March 12) in the cracks of the wall.
  • January 15, 2005 – Pope makes a statement on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in which he states, “No one is permitted to pass by the tragedy of the Shoah. That attempt at the systematic destruction of an entire people falls like a shadow on the history of Europe and the whole world; it is a crime which will for ever darken the history of humanity. May it serve, today and for the future, as a warning: there must be no yielding to ideologies which justify contempt for human dignity on the basis of race, color, language or religion. I make this appeal to everyone, and particularly to those who would resort, in the name of religion, to acts of oppression and terrorism.”