Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

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What are Catholic-Jewish relations all about?

On October 28, 1965, the Second Vatican Council made an official statement on the Catholic Church’s understanding of Judaism and the Jewish people in paragraph 4 of The Declaration on The Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (often referred to by its Latin title, Nostra Aetate). Among other things, the Church affirmed its own roots in Judaism and acknowledged the ongoing validity of the Covenant God made with the Jewish people.  The Church also declared that neither all the Jewish people without distinction at the time of Jesus nor all the Jews of today can be held responsible for the death of Jesus, and that the Church deplores the “hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” 

Nostra Aetate was the first step in an ongoing process of re-examining our relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people.  Since Nostra Aetate, many other official documents and statements have been promulgated by the Church.  These documents have been both the result of a maturing dialogue and the incentive toward continued work on our relationship with the Jewish people. 

Today, in the Church at all levels and in many places, there is a vibrant and fruitful effort to renew our relationship with the Jewish people, a process that is not always without its tensions, controversies, disappointments, and setbacks.  Nevertheless, it is an effort to which the Church is irrevocably committed.  The implications of this process for every aspect of Church life, faith and practice are profound and challenging, for as we encounter Judaism with a new understanding, we encounter ourselves in a new way for we are, as Pope John Paul has said, linked together at the very level of our identities.

Surely, we have had much sad history to overcome. There is a long history of anti-Semitism on the part of Catholics and other Christians, and there is also a corresponding history of suspicion and ignorance of Christianity on the part of Jews.  Our efforts as a Church to dismantle the “teaching of contempt” for Jews and to understand and affirm the meaning of the land of Israel for Jews are now the doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church. 

In Boston we are fortunate to have an ongoing relationship of cooperation and trust between Catholic and Jewish leadership.  In this we have been the recipients of the labors of many men and women over several decades who have remained committed to the ideals of Catholic-Jewish relations even when the path to that end seemed difficult and uncertain.  On the local scene, the shape of these seminal issues is being realized gradually over many years by means of the warm relationship of dialogue and cooperation shared by the Archdiocese of Boston and the Jewish community.  One important example of this is the joint ADL-Archdiocesan program New Directions Program for Teachers. The goal of this program, in which over a thousand have already participated, is to teach Catholic and Jewish religious educators to understand and teach about the beliefs of the other with accuracy and sensitivity.

If there ever were a question as to whether or not we could move beyond our sad and difficult history, that doubt was removed definitively by Pope John Paul’s own pilgrimage to Israel in the year 2000. Among all the other compelling events of that visit, it was with particularly deep joy that we watched the poignant scene of the Holy Father’s private moments at the Kotel, the Western Wall of the Temple.  When he placed in the cracks of those ancient stones that prayer of repentance for the sins of the members of the Church against the Children of the Covenant, he seemed to be saying to Christians everywhere that to forget our spiritual solidarity with the Jewish people is not only to risk the sin of bigotry – and worse - but also to cut ourselves off from our own deepest identity as fellow children of the One God. 

We must, then, not deny our history. Neither must we be slaves to it.  Who could have ever envisioned the reconciling possibilities that God would hold out to us since the Second Vatican Council?  With God’s strength as our guide and guarantee, it is together as believers that we must go forward, keeping in our hearts the counsel of Pope John Paul that before we Christians and Jews can be a blessing to the world, we must be a blessing to one another.