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THE 13th MEETING OF THE INTERNATIONAL LIAISON COMMITTEE (ILC)
BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND IJCIC

 

Prague, September 3-6, 1990

 

The 13th meeting of the International Liaison Committee (ILC) between the Catholic Church, represented by the Commission for Religious Rela­tions with the Jews, and Judaism, represented by the International Jewish Committee on Inter­religious Consultations(IJCIC), took  place in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on the premises of the Jewish Community, September 3-6, 1990.

The generai topic was "The historical and religious dimensions of anti-semitism and its rela­tions with the Shoah (Holocaust)". Specific attention was given to the Shoah in Christian and Jewish religious thought and to Reports from witnesses and experts on the Shoah in various countries.

The specific need for a reflection on the Shoah had already been expressed at the dose of the last ILC meeting in Rome in 1985, and was subsequently stressed many times by Pope John Paul II.

After the visit to the concentration and exter­mination camp of Theresienstadt, where Rabbi Feldman recited the Qaddish and Frs Dubois and Fumagalli read Psalm 130, the opening session was introduced by Archbishop Edward Cassidy who also commemorated the late Rabbi Wolfe Kelman.

Cardinal Tomasek received the delegates and sent two auxiliary bishops to the meeting.

 

PRELIMINARY REMARKS BY ARCHIBISHOP EDWARD I. CASSIDY

September 3, 1990

Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, Dear Christian and Jewish sisters and brothers in the faith of Abraham,

1. It is indeed a great joy for me to be here with you all today and to have the pleasure of extending to you the greeting of the prophet Isaiah: Shalom!

Mir! Pokoy! (Is 52:7). We have looked forward over a rather lengthy period to this day; with the psalmist we can say: this is the day made memorable by God, what immense joy it is for us!.

Our joy at being here together, however, does not in any way diminish our grief and anxiety over the matters that will be the object of our reflec­tions and discussions during these days. The greeting from Isaiah which I have just extended to you was an expression of joy and consolation, but it was intimately associated with a great disaster for Israel: the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile.

Fifty years after the events of 1940 and the subsequent years of the Second World War, it seems appropriate to recall this biblical experience of desolation as we begin this 13th session of the In­ternational Liaison Committee, during which ut­most in our thoughts will be the Shoah, which has been described by the late Abraham Joshua Heschel as the "altar of Satan on which millions of human lives were exterminated to evil's greater glory ".

2. The Shoah has raised important questions for our faith as Christians and Jews, as already illustrated in the conclusions of our last meeting in Rome, in October 1985.3 We share a common

perspective based upon the Sacred Scriptures, ac­cording to which the events of history are to be seen as part of God's saving plan for the world. Pope John Paul II reflected on this in his speech to the Jewish community in Miami, Florida, on September 11th, 1987.

Considering history in the light of the prin­ciples of faith in God, we must also reflect on the catastrophic event of the Shoah, that ruthless and inhuman attempt that resulted in millions of victims — including women and children, the elderly and the sick — ex­terminated only because they were Jews.

Considering this mystery of the suffering of Israel's children, their  witness of hope, of faith and of humanity under dehumanizing outrages, the Church experiences ever more deeply her common band with the Jewish people and with their treasure of spiritual riches in the past and in the present.

(...) The terrible tragedy of your people has led many Jewish thinkers to reflect on the human condition with acute insights. Their vision of man and the roots of this vision in the teachings of the Bible, which we share in our common heritage of the Hebrew Scrip­tures, offer Jewish and Catholic scholars much useful material for reflection and dialogue. And I am thinking here above all of the contribution of Martin Buber and also of Emmanuel Levinas.

In order to understand even more deeply the meaning of the Shoah and the historical roots of anti-Semitism that are related to it, joint collaboration and studies by Catholics and Jews on the Shoah should be continued.

3. I trust that I shall not be misunderstood if I make a reflection concerning Christianity and the Nazi ideology, not in any way to throw a shadow on the primary place which the persecution and destruction of European Jewry had in that diabolical racial myth of the "pure" Indo-Aryan man, but in order that we, as Jews and Christians, might more fruitfully examine the problems that face us in the world today.

There was no place in Nazi ideology for either the Jewish people or the Christian Church. As His Eminente Cardinal Willebrands observed in Lon­don in 1988, Aaron Steinberg clearly saw as early as 1934 that "the deeper motive of Nazi anti­semitism is its anti-Christian, politico-cultural Pan­Germanism ". The same conclusion had been reached already in the 1920's by a young Jesuit professor named Augustine Bea. But let us listen again to the insights of Abraham Heschel:

Nazism in its very roots was a rebellion against the Bible, against the God of Abraham. Realizing that it was Christianity that implanted attachment to the God of Abraham and involvement with the Hebrew Bible in the hearts of Western man, Nazism resolved that it must both exterminate the Jews and eliminate Christianity, and bring about instead a revival of Teutonic paganism.

Nazism has suffered a defeat, but the pro­cess of eliminating the Bible from the con­sciousness of the western world goes on. It is on the issue of saving the radiance of the Hebrew Bible in the minds of man that Jews and Christians are called upon to work together. None of us can do it alone. Both of us must realize that in our age anti-Semitism is anti-Christianity and that anti-Christianity is anti-Semitism.

It is this point that I wish to make here in this city of Prague, a city once called "The Jerusalem of Europe", in the year 1990, which must be con­sidered one of the most important years of this cen­tury for the whole of Europe from the shores of Connemara to the Urals. The Nazi and Communist ideologies have cut deep finto the heritage of the peoples of Europe; they have created new forms of idolatry based on the rejection of the universal ethic founded on the Ten Commandments. The human person is no longer considered an "image of the Other", a beloved child of God with God­given human rights. It is in this sense that I think we must continue to reflect philosophically on Buber and Levinas, as Pope John Paul suggested in Miami.

Recent developments in Europe have offered new possibilities for the creation of a true "civilization of love" based on the values of the Revealed Scriptures. There is a huge vacuum that waits to be filled          but which provides not only possibilities, but also great dangers: a turning to fundarnentalism, to nationalism, or to rightist movements in response to a perceived absence of authority and order. The "civilization of love", about which Popes Paul VI and John Paul II speak, is one built on those values which are taught in the Torah and in the Gospels. To repeat the words of Abraham Heschel: "It is on the issue of saving the radiance of the Hebrew Bible in the minds of man that Jews and Christians are called to work together. None of us can do it alone".

4. In seeking to project your thoughts to this type of future cooperation, I am not attempting to remove our gaze from the past. Indeed, in this meeting we will examine the historical roots of anti-semitism, so closely associated with the stereotypes which have at times been influenced by theological, exegetical and popular traditions among Christians. In this connection, I should like to quote Pope John Paul II once again:

There is no doubt that the sufferings en­dured by the Jews are also for the Catholic Church a motive of sincere sorrow, especial­ly when one thinks of the indifference and sometimes resentment which, in particular historical circumstances, have divided Jews and Christians.

In the meeting of prayer for peace at Assisi on 27th October 1986, John Paul II acknowledged that we Catholics "have not always been peacemakers. For ourselves, therefore, but also perhaps, in a sense, for all, this encounter at Assisi is an act of penance".

I am convinced that we cannot speak simply of Christian anti-semitism, because in themselves the New Testament and Christianity are not anti­semitic. Nevertheless, as the Second Vatican Coun­cii pointed out to all members of the Church, we must work together to eliminate all forms of anti­semitism, objectively examining the historical events and ideological roots of this abhorrent phenomenon.

Indeed, it seems to me that as Christians, we have a particular obligation to take the initiative in this regard, for the faith that we profess is in a God of love, Who reconciles man to God and man to man. If we are to serve Him we must too love each and every one of those whom He has created; and we do that by showing respect and concern for our neighbour, by promoting peace and justice, by knowing how to pardon. That anti-semitism has found a place in Christian thought and practice calls for an act of Teshuva and of reconciliation on our part as we gather here in this city, which is a witness to our failure to be authentic witnesses to our faith at times in the past.

5. Twenty-five years ago, on October 28th, 1965, the Second Vatican Council approved the Declara­tion Nostra Aetate, in which Catholics were en­couraged to reflect on their attitudes towards Judaism and to foster a spirit of mutual understan­ding and respect to all members of that people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy deigned to establish His Covenant. (Nostra Aetate n. 4). That Declaration did not of course solve all the pro­blems concerning our mutual relations, but it opened the way for a pilgrimage to begin that has brought us here today.

Much has to be done to change attitudes and ways of thought; not a link has already been undertaken, as evidenced from the two important documents published by the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the publication by our International Liaison Com­mittee of the papers delivered at the first twelve meetings which it organised. I should like to recall, in this connection, Pope John Paul's visit to the Great Synagogue in Rome, on April 13th, 1986, and the continuing catechesis which His Holiness makes during his meetings in Rome and during his pastoral visits abroad. In fact, since that visit to the Great Synagogue, Pope John Paul II has been responsible for no less than twenty-nine public in­terventions on the theme of Christian-Jewish rela­tions, and this is itself a most important contribu­tion along the lines of the Second Vatican Council to the formation of the Catholic people.

As urged by the Second Vatican Council, Catholic biblical and theological scholars seek through their studies to promote a deeper understanding of our relations, and only two weeks ago in Rome, a private international symposium of about twenty theologians and exegetes debated the fundamental issue of "The Jewish People in the Mystery of Salvation".

6. Prague is certainly not the end of our journey, but with the above initiatives, I see it as an important stagepost along the way. It is my hope that at this time, when so many great changes are taking piace, particularly in Europe, and when at the same time the spectre of anti-semitism is once again appearing in some areas and societies, that our endeavors here will help our Catholic community to pursue the path indicated by the Second Vatican Council, a path that leaves no room for any form of discrimination based on race, religion, or ideological stereotypes. I feel sure that our reflec­tions on the Shoah and on anti-semitism will prove valuable not only for promoting better Christian­ Jewish relations, but also for fostering a deeper understanding of the brotherhood of all peoples and solidarity with the victims of racism and genocide wherever these may occur.

May God bless our work and both our com­munities of faith!

 

STATEMENT BY THE INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC-JEWISH LlAISON COMM1TTEE

Prague, September 6, 1990

Representing the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Con­sultations (Synagogue Council of America, World Jewish Congress, B'nai Brith International and Israel interfaith Committee).

Representatives of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Rela­tions with the Jews met in Prague from September 3rd through the 6th. This was the 13th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Com­mittee.

Before the deliberations began, the Catholic and Jewish delegations made a visit of homage to Theresienstadt, one of the Nazi death camps.

The last meeting of this Committee took place in Rome in 1985. Difficulties which arose led to a delay of a further meeting until now. However, during these years the Steering Committee con­tinued to meet on a regular basis to enable its work to proceed. In a special meeting of the Holy See's Commission and IJCIC in Rome in 1987, it was foreseen that the next meeting would seek to lay the basis for the presentation of a Catholic docu­ment on the Shoah, the historical background of anti-Semitism, and its contemporary manifesta­tions. The intention to prepare such a document was confirmed by the Holy See's Commission.

In this connection, the meeting in Prague discussed the religious as well as the secular basis of anti-Semitism over the past 1900 years and its relationship to the Shoah. This discussion led to the recognition that certain traditions of Catholic thought, teaching, preaching, and practice in the Patristic period and in the Middle Ages contributed to the creation of anti-Semitism in Western society. In modem times, many Catholics were not vigilant enough to react against manifestations of anti­Semitism. The Catholic delegates condemned anti­Semitism as well as all forms of racism as a sin against God and humanity, and affirmed that one cannot be authentically Christian and engage in anti-Semitism.

At the conference, Jewish and Catholic witnesses to the Shoah spoke of their experiences. They offered testimony that many Christians failed themsetves as well as Jews and other victims by too weak a response to Nazi and Fascist ideologies. Witness was also given to the many courageous Christian Church leaders and members who acted to save Jews, thereby risking their own lives during the Nazi terror. Nor was it forgotten that people other than Jews also perished.

The conference acknowledged the monumental role of the Declaration of the Second Vatican Coun­cil Nostra Aetate, as well as later efforts by the Popes and Church officials, to bring about a substantive improvement in Catholic-Jewish rela­tions.

Nostra Aetate created a new spirit in these rela­tionships. Pope John Paul II expressed that new spirit in an audience with Jewish leaders on February 15th, 1985, when he said: "The relation­ship between Jews and Christians has radically im­proved in these years. Where there was ignorance and therefore prejudice and stereotype, there is now growing mutual knowledge, appreciation and respect. There is, above all, love between us: that kind of love I mean, which is for both of us a fundamental injunction of our religious traditions and which the New Testament has received from the Old".

While echoing the Pope's recognition that a new spirit is in the making, the delegates called for a deepening of this spirit in Catholic-Jewish rela­tions, a spirit which emphasizes cooperation, mutual understanding and reconciliation; good­will and common goals to replace the past spirit of suspicion, resentment and distrust.

This spirit presupposes repentance as express­ed by Archbishop Edward Idris Cassidy, President of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Rela­tions with the Jews, when he said in his opening statement: "That anti-Semitism has found a place in Christian thought and practice calls for an act of Teshuvah (repentance) and of reconciliation on our part as we gather here in this city which is a testimony to our failure to be authentic witnesses to our faith at times in the past".

This new spirit would also manif est itself in the work that the two faith communities could do together to respond to the needs of today's world. This need is for the establishment of human rights, freedom, and dignity where they are lacking or im­perilled, and for responsible stewardship of the en­vironment. A new image and a new attitude in Jewish-Catholic relations are required to spread universaliy the trail-blazing work that has been done in a number of communities in various parts of the world. For example, in the United States an ongoing strutture engaging in Catholic-Jewish dialogue recently issued a joint document on the teaching of moral values in public education. Fur­thermore, the Catholic Church there is effectively working to teach Judaísm in its seminaries, school texts and educational materials in a positive and objective manner, scrupulously eliminating anything that would go against the spirit of the Se­cond Vatican Council.

Likewise, the Jewish community in the United States in a growing atmosphere of confidence and trust has conducted its own self-study of its texts in terms of what Jewish schools teach about Chris­tians and Christianity.

Many similar examples of such Catholic and Jewish initiatives in other countries could be cited.

Over and above the study of the history of anti­semitism, the meeting devoted special attention to recent manifestations of anti-Semitism, particular­ly in Eastern and Central Europe. It stressed the need to disseminate the achievements of  Nostra Aetate and past Catholic-Jewish dialogues in those countries where new political developments have created the possibility for cooperative work.

Recognizing the importance of widening the cir­culation of the teachings of Nostra Aetate, the meeting noted with satisfaction the establishement of joint Jewish-Christian liaison Committees in Czechoslovakia and Hungary and the diffusion by the Polish Church authorities of official documents concerning Catholic-Jewish relations in their own language.

It was stressed that systematic efforts must be made to uproot sources of religious anti-semitism wherever they appear through the publication of texts, priestly training, liturgy, and the use of Catholic media.

The Liaison Committee hopes that the new Cathechism for the Universal Church now in preparation could serve as an effective instrument to this end.

With regard to the special problems of anti­Semitism in Eastern and Central Europe, the Com­mittee recommended the following:

1) Translation into the vernacular languages and broad dissemination of all relevant Church documents on relations with Judaism (notably the Declaration on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate n. 4, October 28th, 1965; the Guidelines and Suggestions for im­plementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate n. 4, December 1st, 1974; and the Notes on the cor­rect way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Catholic Church, June 24th, 1985).

2) The inclusion of the teaching of these documents in the curricula of theological seminaries, in order to eliminate all remnants of the " teaching of contempt", and the setting up of special courses on the same subject in the seminaries for priests who have not yet received such theological instruction.

3) The monitoring of all trends and events which threaten an upsurge of anti-Semitism with a view to countering promptly such developments.

4) Ongoing actions aimed at guaranteeing freedom of worship and religious education for all citizens (Christians, Jews and others).

5) Active support of general legislation against discrimination on grounds of race or religion in­cluding anti-Semitism, and against incitement to religious or racial hatred; promotion of legislative action curtailing freedom of association to racist organizations.

6) Support of general educational programmes which would foresee:

a) Inclusion in school curricula of knowledge and respect for different civilizations, cultures and religions, in particular of peoples and denomina­tions inhabiting the national territory concerned;

b) Special attention to be paid in education to the problem of racial, national and religious pre­ judice and hatred. This should include the teaching of the history of the disasters brought about by such prejudice or hatred;

c) Elimination from the text-books of all racial­ly or religiously prejudiced content and of material conducive to creating inter-group strife.

It was recommended that a special joint com­mission be established by the competent authorities of the respective communities in each of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe to facilitate and promote these goals. The Holy See's Commission for the Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations are ready to assist such efforts.

We continue to see the need, already envisaged, for closer and more rapid cooperation and ex­change of information between IJCIC and the Holy See's Commission, in order to avoid future misunderstanding and face together trends and concerns within the two communities.

With regard to the Carmelite Convent  at Auschwitz, we note with satisfaction the declara­tion of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews made by Cardinal Johan­nes Willebrands in September 1989, confirming the intention to establish in another location "a Center of Meeting, Dialogue and Prayer, as foreseen in the Geneva agreement of February 1987, which would contribute in an important way to the development of good relations between Christians and Jews".

We look to the early completion of the new edifice in which the Carmelite Monastery will find its natural setting and hope that all difficulties will be overcome.

The Jewish delegation expressed its commit­ment to the State of Israel and stressed the need for Catholic understanding of the special piace Israel has in Jewish consciousness. It manifested its con­cern with the lack of full diplomatic relations bet­ween the Holy See and the State of Israel.

Furthermore, the Jewish delegation expressed the hope that Vatican archival material would be made accessible for better understanding of the darkest period in Jewish history.

After two millenia of estrangement and hostili­ty, we have a sacred duty as Catholics and Jews to strive to create a genuine culture of mutuai esteem and reciprocai caring.

Catholic Jewish dialogue can become a sign of hope and inspiration to other religions, racer, and ethnic groups to turn away from contempt, toward realizing authentic human fraternity.

The new spirit of friendship and caring for one another may be the most important symbol that we have to offer to our troubled world.

Prague, September 6th, 1990.

 

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