Honouring John Paul II at the Knesset
Archbishop Pietro Sambi
Apostolic Nuncio, Israel
A legacy of 'constant attention' to the Jews
On Tuesday, 12 July, in the prestigious Shagall Hall of the Knesset, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, gave the following discourse on the occasion of the commemoration of Pope John Paul II's Visit to the Knesset, and the release of a stamp by the Ministry of Communications, marked with an image of John Paul II inserting a note with his prayers written on it between two stones of the Wailing Wall, both of which took place during his Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 2000.
Pope John Paul II has been faithful to the Document Nostra Aetate issued by the Second Vatican Council in which the Catholic Bishops of the entire world, in 1965, declared: "Since Christians and Jews have such a common spiritual heritage, this sacred Council wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation.... [The Catholic Church] ...deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism levelled at any time or from any source against the Jews" (n. 4).
Nostra Aetate, published 40 years ago, has been a turning point in the relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism.
John Paul II always remained faithful also to the memories of his childhood, spent among Jewish friends, as well as to the memories of his youth, as a witness of the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.
During his historic Visit to Yad Vashem in the year 2000, he said: "My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the War. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbours, 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 their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain" (John Paul II, Address at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, 23 March 2000, n. 1; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 29 March, p. 7).
Significant events to remember
Pope John Paul II's life-long faithfulness to the memory of the Shoah and his commitment to the Conciliar Document Nostra Aetate explain his constant attention to the Jewish People throughout his Pontificate. As we commemorate him today, a certain number of events stand out as being particularly significant:
— His Visit, the first in history, to the Synagogue of Rome in 1986, during which he uttered a statement which became famous: "With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You [the Jews] are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers" (Address to the Jewish Community, 13 April 1986, n. 4; ORE, 21 April, p. 6);
— The "Fundamental Agreement" between the State of Israel and the Holy See, signed on 30 December 1993, and the consequent establishment of diplomatic relations in 1994. However, this Agreement, ratified by the State of Israel on 20 February 1994, and internationally entered into force on 10 March of the same year, has not yet been incorporated by the Knesset into Israeli law. The same can be said of the "Legal Personality Agreement", ratified by Israel on 16 December 1998 and internationally entered into force on 3 February 1999. The so-called "Economic Agreement", mandated by Article 10 of the "Fundamental Agreement", has not yet been concluded;
— His Visit to the Holy Land in the year 2000, which the Ministry of Communications has recently commemorated with a special stamp. Also worth mentioning are the numerous Meetings in the Vatican with Israeli Authorities and Jewish delegations, and with Jewish communities in the countries visited by the Pope. Last, but not least, the mention of the Chief Rabbi of Rome in his Will, a unique fact in history.
Also exceptional and unprecedented in history is the commemoration of a Pope in the Knesset. For this special event I wish to convey my deepest and sincere gratitude, which reflects, no doubt, that of the Catholic world.
Limiting myself to the religious domain, I would like to underline some important points in the teachings of Pope John Paul II.
He said during the interreligious meeting at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center in the year 2000: "The Catholic Church wishes to pursue a sincere and fruitful interreligious dialogue with the members of the Jewish faith and the followers of Islam. Such a dialogue is not an attempt to impose our views upon others. What it demands of all of us is that, holding to what we believe, we listen respectfully to one another, seek to discern all that is good and holy in each others' teachings, and cooperate in supporting everything that favours mutual understanding and peace" (Address at Interreligious Meeting at Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, 23 March 2000, n. 4; ORE, 29 March, p. 8).
Religion and peace
Religion and peace have been two inseparable aspects in the teaching and in the work of John Paul II.
During the above-mentioned interreligious meeting he went on explaining: "Each of our religions knows, in some form or another, the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Precious as this rule is as a guide, true love of neighbour goes much further. It is based on the conviction that when we love our neighbour we are showing love for God, and when we hurt our neighbour we offend God. This means that religion is the enemy of exclusion and discrimination, of hatred and rivalry, of violence and conflict. Religion is not, and must not become, an excuse for violence, particularly when religious identity coincides with cultural and ethnic identity. Religion and peace go together! Religious belief and practice cannot be separated from the defence of the image of God in every human being" (ibid.).
Pope John Paul II spoke very strongly against the exploitation of religion and some of its deviations.
In his Message for the World Day of Peace on 1 January 2002, he wrote: "Terrorism is often the outcome of that fanatic fundamentalism which springs from the conviction that one's own vision of the truth must be forced upon everyone else. Instead, even when the truth has been reached — and this can happen only in a limited and imperfect way — it can never be imposed. Respect for a person's conscience, where the image of God himself is reflected (cf. Gn 1:26-27), means that we can only propose the truth to others, who are then responsible for accepting it. To try to impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offence against human dignity, and ultimately an offence against God whose image that person bears. For this reason, what is usually referred to as fundamentalism is an attitude radically opposed to belief in God. Terrorism exploits not just people, it exploits God: it ends by making him an idol to be used for one's own purposes" (Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2002,
n. 6; ORE, 19/26 December 2001, p. 10).
Terrorism in God's name
"No religious leader can condone terrorism, and much less preach it. It is a profanation of religion to declare oneself a terrorist in the name of God, to do violence to others in his name. Terrorist violence is a contradiction of faith in God, the Creator of man, who cares for man and loves him" (ibid., n. 7).
I conclude with the legacy left to us by the Pope at Yad Vashem.
"Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord, and look to Abraham as our common father in faith" (cf. We Remember, V); (John Paul II, Address at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, 23 March 2000, n. 4; ORE, 29 March, p. 7).
Weekly Edition in English
27 July 2005, page 3
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