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INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC/JEWISH LIAISON COMMITTEE

Rome, October 28-30, 1985

 

CARDINAL WILLEBRANDS' ADDRESS October 28

It is with great pleasure that I, as president of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, extend my welcome to those here pre­sent, Jews and Catholics, to participate in the 12th meeting of the International Liaison Committee between the Catholic Church, represented by our Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.

The present meeting is held in Rome in the premises of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, which means that in a certain sense all of you are our guests. This circumstance, significant in itself, not only enhances the pleasure of receiving you, but also is closely linked to the main scope of the meeting itself.

We are, in effect, meeting in Rome now for the second time because we wish to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the promulgation by the Second Vatican Council of the declaration Nostra Aetate, the fourth section of which, as we all know, deals with the relationship between the church and the Jewish community.

Today, October 28, happens to be the very date when that document was approved by an extre­mely large majority of the members of the council and the officially promulgated by Pope Paul VI and the council, as reads the Latin formula of promulgation.

We are therefore in a way celebrating our birthday. It is true, of course, that the International Liaison Committee only took shape four or five years later, and only met for the first time in December 1971 in Paris. And the commission now responsible in the Holy See for relations with the Jews came into existence in October 1974. However, it is quite obvious that it all began that October 28. Were it not for that historic para­graph, in all its briefness and notwithstanding the many critiques moved against it before and after its promulgation, we would not be sitting here this day to celebrate this 20th anniversary.

I believe that a lesson can be drawn from this.

Documents have always their limits, especially if they are envisaged from the point of view of those who are to receive them and with whom they are mainly concerned. Much less so, of course, if they are looked at from the perspective of those who have wrestled with the text or texts and the reactions thereupon for many years. I was one of them, and I think I know very well what this means.

On the other hand, when Nostra Aetate, no. 4 is read and pondered 20 years after, as we intend to do on this occasion, what is in the minds of all of us, Catholics and Jews, are certainly not its limitations, if any, but its extraordinary value in the light of the preceding attitude or attitudes, practical and theoretical, in the church regarding Judaism.

If Jews during the years elapsed have better appreciated this newness and virtual uniqueness of the Nostra Aetate text, we Catholics have come to see more how it really conforms with a deeper strand of our tradition and indeed with the word of God in both Testaments. It would not be otherwise if it was to be approved by an ecumenical council. Conciliar documents, as I am sure you all know, are held, in Catholic traditional teaching, to come ultimately from the Holy Spirit, who is assisting, illuminating and, if need be, correcting the human process of reflection and decision.

If, therefore, the Godhead is behind the text of Nostra Aetate, and also behind Lumen Gentium, no. 16 (which should not be forgotten in this connection), then the changed relationship with Judaism is not a question of practical decision, however noble and high flung our motivations may be for that. It is for us, as Catholics, a question of fidelity to our own vocation, a part of our response to God.

This is why there could never be question of drawing back from Nostra Aetate. There can only be a question about going forward.

Now, to go forward, as I am convinced we have done these last 20 years, one has to be sure of the starting point and constantly look back to it, to reaffirm its fundamental importance and draw inspiration from it.

One reason for the present meeting is precisely this one. We must on this occasion look back to Nostra Aetate to reaffirm its fundamental importance and to draw renewed inspiration from it. We are all convinced of the fundamental achievement it meant for the Catholic Church and also perhaps beyond, and of its permanent value.

Let us state a first conclusion from all this: Jewish-Christian relations in the Catholic Church are there to stay, grounded as they are not on any transient phenomenon of any kind, much less on a kind of guilt complex (What an unreliable foun­dation would that be!), but on a renewed consciousness of the "mystery" of the church, as No­stra Aetate starts by saying. Namely, they are grounded in theological convictions, which for the Catholic Church is essential. We do not withdraw from such convictions. Our own identity would be at stake here.

Another conclusion I would like to draw is that what has happened since Nostra Aetate is proof enough of the firmness of our resolve and the coherence of our decision. This is not the place to flood you with statistics or to list positive facts. I will only refer briefly to three significant items which I believe are extremely revealing.

1. The first one is the constant engagement of the Holy See and of the Holy Father himself in reaching out to the Jewish community on the one hand and in trying to make the Catholic commu­nity always more aware of the consequences of Nostra Aetate on the other hand.

It is not only that the number of Jewish visitors to the Holy See and to the Holy Father - groups and individuals has grown enormously along the years. There is also the new development of the Pope meeting representatives of the Jewish community wherever he happens to be going and where there is a Jewish community willing to be received. This is what I meant by "reaching out". Obviously, in fact, such encounters are not limited to the person or persons involved, but have much larger, far-reaching consequences.

Regarding our own faithful, you are well aware of what has been done on the part of the Holy See. In 20 years we have published two docu­ments, the "Guidelines" and the "Notes", with the precise aim of permeating all levels of the church with the means and ways to arrive at a renewed presentation of Jews and Judaism in our teaching, but also, deeper still, in our own consciousness.

Now these documents, each in its own time, have also been found to suffer from limitations. When, however, we look at the first one, the "Guidelines" of 1974, from the vantage point of time (exactly as we have done with Nostra Aetate), limitations fade into the background, and what is left and really matters is the positive aspects of the text and the continuity with the conciliar declaration.

I believe exactly the same will happen with the "Notes", if it is not already happening barely four months after its promulgation. It will be recognized, and this has already been said, on two points that may have seemed insufficient to some, that for the first time the Catholic Church at the highest level has told its catechists, its preachers and its teachers to consider the religious link of the Jewish people with the land of their fathers as well as the existence of the state of Israel in the context of international law, and to try to understand the meaning of the Holocaust.

2. And this brings me to my second example. Our teaching on Jews and Judaism has already changed. One recent survey conducted by a group of experts in the United States bears the point. As I have said, I will not present statistics. I simply call your attention to the fact. Anti-Semitism is perhaps still alive. Regretfully it will take long to die out. But it becomes every day more difficult to have it linked with official, approved Catholic teaching. It may draw from other sources, secular or pseudoreligious, and this we have to assess carefully. But we all agree that it is another problem. And as we in the Catholic Church have a long experience of anti-Catholicism, coming from many sources, we can perhaps use this experience, as it has been done in certain places like the United States, to counter the anti­Semitic plague.

The responses we have received from different Catholic sources, written and oral, public and private, on the "Notes" are extremely revealing in this connection. Either we are told that such suggestions as we have offered are already being put into practice but they are always welcome or else we are informed of the willingness to pursue the path indicated, so as to be in complete accord with what has become official teaching of the church. And this also in some particularly delicate fields, like for instance the relations between the First and the Second Testa­ments (Section I of the "Notes").

3. I come now to my third example, the last one, but certainly not the least.

I have referred above to the foundation on "theological convictions" of the new relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism. And when some misgivings have been expressed about the "Guidelines" in their time and more recently about the "Notes", it has often been in the name of "theology".

a) Here I would like to make two points. First, "theology" is a pluralistic concept. The title of our commission seems to me to hint to a certain theological dimension. It is in fact the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. "Religious" is normally taken to mean: "non-political". And this is true. But it is not all. There is something more which is positive and not merely negative. And this I believe is precisely the rediscovery and translation into practice of the "link" or "bond" between our two "ways of life", grounded, as I believe, in the will of God. When I speak about "theology" I am not referring primarily to a rational, intellectual reflection on the content of faith, but rather to the way we Catholics try to "walk humbly with our God" (Mi 6:8), according to our own convictions. In this sense there is nothing in the Catholic Church which can be called "alien" to theology, much less Catholic-Jewish relations. To put it briefly: either such relations do have from our point of view a real theological character or they become an exercise in interreligious courtesy. This I would say of any interreligious dialogue, but it must be underlined much more strongly when it is a question of Catholic-Jewish relations.

And here we must sometimes be careful about what we mean with "theological" thinking when we feel that perhaps some statement or some document does not live up to certain "theological" standards. We have to be careful, I insist, not to confuse "accepted theological standards" in the Catholic Church with the personal theolog­ical opinions of some scholars, however respectable. These might be good or bad as the case may be; but they are not or not yet "theological standards", which consist, for us, of the official teaching documents of the church.

b) I am well aware, and this is my second point on this particular subject, that for many Jews "theology" and "theological dialogue" are problematic terms. I also think I know the reasons too many sad memories are attached to these and similar expressions. And there is an extremely delicate and utterly respectable feeling that what happens in the realm of faith between God and the human person is not to be made the subject of a conversation with anybody.

This I understand and respect. And I recall vividly in this connection a conversation I had in a New York hotel March 8, 1971, with Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the venerable Jewish teacher of so many generations of rabbis and, at least indirectly, of very many Jews at large. After having said what I just repeated, only in a more beautiful and moving way, he went on to say that in any case "all dialogue between Jews and Christians cannot but be religious and theological because", he continued, "you are a priest and I am a rabbi; can we speak otherwise than at the level of religion? Our culture is certainly a religious one". And then he referred, seeking my approval, which I was only too happy to give, to the permanent validity to both of us of the books of the Old Testament as a "source of hope".

On the occasion of this commemoration it is obvious that we are bound to speak also of what is still ahead of us. As I said before, there is no question of turning back, but only of going forward.

Yes, many fields could perhaps be enlisted in which, either on the Catholic or on the Jewish side, more progress could and indeed should be expected. I do not think I am the one to start here the discussion on these points. I am sure the participants in this meeting will take up the subject in the following sessions. But I would like all the same to stress two points in this connection.

First of all, whatever shortcomings we may be guilty of on either side should be seen against the background not only of the progress already made in 20 years, which would be fairly obvious, but much more of the solid, rocklike foundations I referred to in the first part of this speech. Thus we have at our disposal (I am speaking mainly about the Catholic side), nay in our minds and hearts as Christians, the rationale and the moving force to go forward. In a certain sense it is only a question of putting into practice — or, if you wish, of coherence.

A second point is about this International Liaison Committee, meeting now in Rome. It is, I submit, the only official linking body we have between the Holy See and the Jewish community. Whatever its limitations, it is a symbol and an effective instrument of our relationship. I believe we have still to ponder very carefully how we can make use of it to deepen, foster, apply in many walks of life, such relationship within the "terms of reference" agreed upon in December 1970 in the "Memorandum of Understanding".

I do not mean by that that we should enlarge its membership or have it changed to become a forum for technical theological discussions, much less a kind of debating society meeting now and then on nice and less nice subjects. It is, in fact, the only place where we are able to meet as officially appointed Catholic and Jewish representatives (with the asymmetry which is so typical of our relationship), face to face for three full days, well conscious of the responsibility the present state of our relationship places on our shoulders, on each side and both together.

Of course, our respective freedom is not impaired and our respective identities should remain untouched and do so remain. Even when we are told that "consultations" should be held before doing this or that, or publishing such and such a text, we are all convinced that the final decision on either side rests solely with the body or bodies concerned, which may have, as is quite obvious, its own reasons, dependent on its own structures and finally on its identity, to chose one or the other solution.

But having said as much, there is no question that we are linked for good and that this "link" or "bond" for the Catholic Church rests on her own identity as church. This we cannot ignore when we meet, and for the 12th time, in the International Liaison Committee.

Let us try to see very clearly where we are going, how we should move to get there and in which way we can already translate our relationship into concrete forms of collaboration toward all men and women in a world torn by hate, violence, discrimination and also indifference for the poor, the sick, the elderly and the oppressed.

Our friends here present from different parts of the world who have joined us for this specific occasion might help us in the realization of this task before us.

Again, at the end of this already long introductory speech, I am bound to repeat that which I have turned to many times in this speech: We are not supposed to do this or that, or not to do it, in the field of Jewish-Christian relationship out of any sense of expediency or mere human convenience, but because we believe in the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and indeed Jesus Christ, and with all our differences we have been brought together finally, hopefully for good, as Jacob and Esau did one day embrace and reconcile as brothers before God (as it is said in Gn 33:3-4). A text I would like to read as an appropriate conclusion to my speech, but at the same time perhaps as an inspiring starting point for our meeting:

"He himself (Jacob) went on before them (his wives and children), bowing to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept".

 

INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC/JEWISH LIAISON COMMITTEE

Rome, October 28-30, 1985

Press Release of the 12th Meeting

The International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee committed itself to a program of ac­tion for the immediate future. The six points of the program are: 1) to disseminate and explain the achievements of the past two decades to our two communities; 2) to undertake an effort to overcome the residues of indifference, resistance and suspicion that may still prevail in some sections of our communities; 3) to work together in combatting tendencies toward religious extremism and fanaticism; 4) to promote conceptual clarifications and theological reflection in both com­munities and to create appropriate forums acceptable to both sides, in which this reflection can be deepened; 5) to foster cooperation and common action for justice and peace; 6) to undertake a joint study of the historical events and theological implications of the extermination of the Jews of Europe during World War II (frequently called the "Holocaust" or, in Hebrew, Shoah). A steering committee will be established to work out the details of this program.

This, the twelfth meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, took place on October 28-30, 1985 at the offices of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity of the Holy See. The event was timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's declaration on the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people, Nostra Aetate, no. 4. That document, whose Latin title, taken from its opening words, means "In Our Times", was promulgated on October 28, 1965, by Pope Paul VI together with the 2,221 Council Fathers.

The International Liaison Committee was founded in 1970 as a means of implementig the Council's call for the institution of ongoing dialogue between the Church and the Jewish people after centuries of mistrust and often tragic conflict. The Committee is composed of representatives of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC).

[ IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, is composed of the World Jewish Congress, the Synagogue Council of America, the American Jewish Committee, the Israel Jewish Council for Interreligious Consultations, and B'nai B'rith.]

Highlighting the event was an audience with Pope John Paul II on the afternoon of October 28th. Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, president of the Holy See's Commission, introduced the Liaison Committee to the Pope, who has met previously with its members on earlier occasions. Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, chair of IJCIC, hailed Nostra Aetate and subsequent papal statements as documents which had revolutionized Christian ­Jewish relations and created new opportunities for dialogue. Rabbi Waxman pointed out that the creation of the State of Israel was likewise a revolution in Jewish history which calls for new thinking by both Catholics and Jews.

The Pope, for his part, reaffirmed the Church's commitment to Nostra Aetate and the uniqueness of the sacred "link" between the Church and the Jewish people which he called one of "parentage, a relationship which we have with that religious community alone... stemming from the mysterious will of God". The Pope added: "I am sure you will work with even greater dedication, for constantly deeper mutual knowledge, for even greater interest in the legitimate concerns of each other, and especially for collaboration in the many fields where our faith in one God and our common respect for his image in all men and women invite our witness and commitment".

At the meeting of the Liaison Committee, Car­dinal Willebrands and Dr. Gerhard Riegner of the World Jewish Congress assessed developments since the promulgation of  Nostra Aetate. Both areas of remarkable progress and areas where further efforts toward understanding are needed were cited. Cardinal Willebrands declared: "Let us try to see very clearly where we are going, how we should move to get there, and in which way we can already translate our relationship into con­crete forms of collaboration towards all men and women, in a world torn by hate, violence, discrimination and also indifference for the poor, the sick, the elderly and the oppressed".

Dr. Riegner stated: "One the eve of the meeting of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops which will review the achievements of Vatican Council II, we turn with confidence to its members. We are convinced that they will ensure... that the process of renewal of our relationship so hopefully initiated by the Council will be further advanced".

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, Secretary for Catholic­Jewish Relations for the US Catholic Bishops' Conference, presented a detailed analysis of Nostra Aetate in the light of the two maior documents of the Holy See designed to implement its teaching: the "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing Nostra Aetate, no. 4" (1975) and "Notes for the Correct Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church" (1985). The analysis revealed the dynamic and still developing character of the Church's continuing renewal in the light of its dialogue with the Jews as God's People. "Judaism, no less than Christianity, comes from God", Fisher concluded. "This was the central message of the Second Vatican Council, and one to which we Catholics must re-commit ourselves in each generation".

Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and representative of the Israel Jewish Council for Interreligious Consultations, presented a Jewish reaction to the Notes in which he analyzed both its positive aspects (e.g., on the Jewish roots of Christianity, the appreciation of the Pharisees) with those that had caused disappointment (e.g., the failure to appreciate deep levels of Jewish self-understanding and the inadeguate treatment of the Holocaust).

From within the context of the self-understanding of the Catholic Church, Msgr Jorge Mejìa, Secretary of the Vatican Commission, proposed some appropriate "hermeneutical keys" for the proper understanding of sections of the "Notes» which have raised problems of interpretation.

In the light of the exchanged views which followed these presentations, significant areas for further study and clarification were raised by the participants.

Regional reports were given on the status of relations between Catholics and Jews in Latin America, Europe, Israel, Africa and North America. These provided a survey of concerns on all levels of the relationship, from local communities to national and international perspectives. A special report was made by Sisters Shirley Sedawie and Margareth McGrath of the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion on the work in Rome of SIDIC (Service International de documentation Judéo-Chrétienne) and the Congregation's centers in various parts of the world dedicated to fostering Catholic-Jewish reconciliation.

On the evening of October 30, the Liaison Committee attended a special symposium held at the Pontifical Lateran University to commemorate the 850th anniversary of the birth of the great Jewish philosopher Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides). Papers on the thought of Maimonides were presented by Rev. Jacques-Marcel Dubois, OP, director of the department of philosophy of the He­brew University in Jerusalem and Rabbi Walter S. Wurzburger, professor of philosophy at Yeshiva University in New York.

 

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