Letter of the Bishops of Poland on Pardon and Reconciliation with Jews, with Followers of Non-Christian Religions, and with Non-Believers

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Bishops of Poland

Polonia       25/08/2000

1. As we celebrate this Great Jubilee of our Redemption, the Catholic Church in Poland—together with the universal Church—rejoices in the redemption of the world, and invites others to share in this joy. One of the fundamental demands of our time is that of personal conversion on the part of each individual, from which flows reconciliation with God and with others. Reconciliation and brotherhood are particularly necessary in places where there have been pain-filled and hurtful divisions and disputes, not to mention high levels of tensions, conflicts and even fighting. In connection with its preparation for the Great Jubilee, the universal Church has undertaken the task of "purifying its memory". The Catholic Church in Poland has also been taking part in this process. In this Holy Year, which is a time of reconciliation and grace, once again we turn to the past, to announce in a more effective and fruitful way God’s reconciliation with humanity, this grace which we have received through Christ. In the spirit of the Gospel, we wish that the present and the future might be steeped in this spirit of reconciliation. The bishops of the Catholic Church in Poland feel a particular concern for this theme of "purification of memories". It is one of the Church’s duties to be willing, at all times and in all places, to engage in dialogue with all people, and to underscore that this is not an optional attitude, but a Gospel-based duty for all Christ’s disciples. Dialogue is the native language of all of humanity. "Above all else, dialogue is a way of acting, an attitude and spirit which inspires a certain type of behaviour. It involves attentiveness, respect and a welcoming approach to others, in which the other person is given the space necessary for one's own identity, one's own way of expressing oneself, one's own values. Such a dialogue is the norm and the style which is indispensable to every Christian mission, no matter what form it takes—whether this means the simple witness of one’s presence, or service, or direct proclamation. A mission which is not steeped in a spirit of dialogue would be contrary to the demands of human nature, and to the teachings of the Gospel itself" (Declaration of the Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, 10-6-1984, 29). It is important that we be able to—and desire to—live out this message, not only among ourselves, but also (while maintaining our own identity, and in a spirit of mutual esteem) with those who profess other beliefs.

2. Our consideration turns first to the Jewish people, to whom we are united by many deep ties. "The Jewish religion is not ‘external’ to us but, in a certain way, it is ‘intrinsic’ to our religion" (John Paul II, Speech at the Great Synagogue of Rome, 13-4-1986). For many years, the Catholic Church in Poland has been working to discover paths of reconciliation with the people of Israel, chosen by God according to "a call which has not been revoked," a people which remains "very dear to God" (Romans 11:28-29). This faithfulness of God is the guarantee and the visible sign of the love of God for every human being, human beings who are constantly in need of forgiveness and interior renewal. As Christians, we also have benefitted from this faithful love of God, for we also have been lacking in faithfulness, and we commit sins which call for repentance and conversion. Conscious of the merciful love of God, and of the graces which each person may take advantage of during the Great Jubilee, we wish to unite ourselves to the examination of conscience of the Polish Church. Through its Primate, the Church has asked forgiveness of God for those among us who have been lacking in respect toward those of other religions, or who have tolerated anti-Semitism. We believe that the daughters and sons of the Catholic Church in Poland will reaffirm this particular act on the level of their own individual consciences, and, collectively, on the level of their communities. The history of contemporary Judaism has been marked by the drama of the Shoah. The extermination of several million Jews—men, women and children—which was planned by National Socialism, was carried out in large part on the soil of occupied Poland, in territories administered by the Germans. With the passing of the years, we realize more and more clearly the unspeakable drama which the Jewish people suffered. On this occasion, we wish to recall once more the letter of the Polish episcopate on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, which was read in our country’s churches on January 20, 1991. The generation of witnesses, and those who lived through the Second World War and the Shoah is slowly disappearing. Therefore it is appropriate to engrave in our memories, in a faithful and respectful manner, what took place, and to pass this on to future generations. We must clearly realize, in the Jubilee spirit of penance, that alongside the numerous gestures of generosity on the part of Poles who saved Jewish lives, there are also the sins of that era: sins of indifference and even hostility toward the Jews. It is necessary, therefore, for us to do everything possible to restore and deepen our sense of Christian solidarity with the people of Israel, so that such a tragedy may never again be able to be repeated. In the same way, we must fight against anti-Judaism in all its manifestations, which derives from an erroneous understanding of the Church’s teaching, and against anti-Semitism, a feeling of hatred rooted in nationalistic or racist ideas, which still exist among Christians. We hope that anti-Polish sentiments will be overcome with the same determination. Anti-Semitism, like anti-Christian sentiment, is a sin, and the teaching of the Catholic Church rejects it, as well as every other form of racism. These perspectives and possibilities have been opened up for us in a particular way by John Paul II during his Jubilee Year pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The profound significance of that pilgrimage allows us to hope that both Jews and Christians will follow courageously in the path that John Paul II has marked out for us, especially in his speech at Yad Vashem: "Let us build a future in which there are no longer anti-Jewish feelings among Christians, or anti-Christian feelings among Jews, but instead the mutual respect called for on the part of those who adore the one Creator and Lord, and who look to Abraham as our common father in faith" (see also the document "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah"). We hope that the daughters and sons of the Church in Poland will each reaffirm in their own consciences the special act which the Primate of Poland performed on May 20, 2000. It should contribute "to purifying us, as well as making us attentive to all that is acceptable to God, and thus preparing the path of prayer together."
5. We write these lines keeping in mind Poland’s long tradition of tolerance and concern for others in secular life, values which the Church has always supported. Nevertheless, in the not-so-distant past, and again more recently, this tradition has been severely tested. We must ask forgiveness of those who, in whatever circumstances, have suffered because of us—because of a lack of understanding, because of rejection, because of indifference or injustice. These were the consequences of forgetting a fundamental truth: all of us are children of the same God. We do not say this because of any political or other motivations, but solely because of a need which comes from deep in our hearts, and from the Gospel itself. We are also doing this as a response to the appeal of John Paul II, that "in this year of mercy, the Church, rich with that holiness which it receives from its Lord, may kneel before God and beg pardon for the past and present sins of its children" (Incarnationis Mysterium, Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee Year, 11). We hope that our attitude and our actions will be understood in truth, and accepted as an appeal—to God and to human beings—for reconciliation and cooperation, which unite all people of good will.

Jasna Gora, August 25, 2000

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