Città del Vaticano 27/10/2005Eminences, Excellencies, Distinguished Jewish Guests, Ambassadors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered in this illustrious Hall to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, and in particular the fourth chap- ter of this document on Judaism. I extend a warm welcome to you all, and express heartfelt gratitude for your presence, which honours not only myseif but also the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
Before introducing the theme of our celebration, it is my privilege to read the message of Pope Bene- dict XVI:
[Message of His Holiness]
Forty years represent a biblical span with many connotations. First of all, we can think in terms of a generational span, a time in which one generation is active and is eventually substituted by another. In our case, forty years represent a journey that has not always been easy and indeed has often been demanding, but one which God has accompanied and sus- tained, and which therefore we can call a blessed time. Today in celebrating this, we recali the forty years that have passed since the memorable promul- gation of a document that — like few others — has overturned a bimillenary history that has been com- plex, troubled, difficult and painful. We celebrate a Declaration that has marked the beginning of a begin- ning between Jews and Christians, a journey that in truth is stili far from the promised land; a journey stili fraught with obstacles, misunderstandings and suspicion, stili marked by past wounds that have not yet healed. We still feel the need for the purification of memory through a continuai process of conver- sion or teshuvà.
I extend a warm greeting to the two speakers this evening, His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger and the renowned Rabbi David Rosen. Over the years they have represented, although in different ways, the avantgarde of our journey. I would like to express my profound gratitude to them for having accepted to reflect with us on the message of Nostra Aetate and on the meaning of the document for the future - a future that I would take the liberty of calling "shared".
In commemorating the anniversary of Nostra Aetate it would be impossible, or rather it would be a sign of ingratitude, not to mention those who have had the inspiration, the courage and the enthusiasm — and the spiritual force — to undertake our journey,to make it possible despite the many, very strong and unimaginable forms of resistance, both ad extra and ad intra. We call to mina Angelo Roncalli, the blessed Pope John XXIII, together with Cardinal Augustin Bea and his successor Cardinal Johannes Wille- brands, as well as Jules Isaak, the French Jewish his- torian who in a memorable audience in June 1960 convinced Pope Roncalli to take make a great leap, and Johannes Osterreicher, one of the main drafters of the Declaration, and many others. And how can we not recali Pope John Paul II? No other Pope in church history has ever made his own the meaning of Nostra Aetate, no other has ever fostered and deepened it with all the force of his extraordinary person- ality. I will limit myself to mentioning his visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, the Major Tempie, and the visit to Yad Vashem and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. We follow in the footsteps traced by the giants who have preceded us.
Our gratitude is extended also to those who have accompanied us over the last forty years in the difficult and often discontinuous process of the reception of the teaching of Nostra Aetate, its application, its assimilation in the context of the church and of the Jewish world, and its transmission today to the newer generation that has no memory of the radical change ushered in by the document. There have been many ups and downs over the last forty years, during which we have confronted doubt and misunderstand- ing, but also during which we have seen the publica- tion of many valuable documents, articles and books that have contributed to our cause, years in which profound friendships have been formed, and therefore years that give us reason to hope.
In this regard, I welcome the initiative of Mon- signor Pier Francesco Fumagalli, who assists our Commission and who has edited for the 40th anniver- sary of Nostra Aetate a book entitled Fratelli prediletti — Chiesa e popolo ebraico (Beloved Brothers — The Church and Jewish People), published by Mondadori. The book gathers the most significant texts of Pope John Paul II and the most important documents of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
In tracing the history of the last forty years, I will limit myself to recalling only two of the first crafts- men of our work, the late Dr Gerhart Riegner for his work with the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations [IJCIC] and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and the Emeritus Chief Rabbi, Professor Elio Toaff, for relations with the Jewish community of Rome. They are a part that represent the whole: two dear friends among many other friends.
Among the guests tonight, I greet the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shear Yashuv Cohen, Co-President, together with Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia, of the Bilateral Dia- logue Commission recently established between the Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
The message of Nostra Aetate is as clear today as it was then: a decisive `no' to every form of antiJudaism and anti-Semitism and the condemnation of every sort of insult, discrimination and persecution deriving from them. A no less decisive `yes' to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity. Christians have received as a gift from Judaism the faith in the one and only God, and the promises and com- mandments of the Lord that cast light on our life's journey and give us hope. The Jewish people have given us Jesus and Mary, his mother. Notwithstand- ing all the undeniable differences that are essential for our respective faiths, Christians have a unique relationship with Judaism, one that we do not have with any other religion. That is why Pope John Paul II called Jews "our elder brothers in the faith of Abra- ham", our common father in faith. It is for this rea- son that today, unlike the Church Fathers who wrote a Tractatus contra Iudaeos, we could instead write a Tractatus pro Iudaeis.
It is a tragedy of history that both this `no' and `yes' have only been expressed after the horrific experience of the Shoah, an unspeakable and previously unimaginable crime. It is not by chance that one of the most important documents published in these forty years by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is entitled "We Remember" (1998). Even in this moment of celebration, I feel profoundly dutybound to recall the words of Pope John Paul II, which were made his own by Pope Benedict XVI in the Synagogue of Cologne: "I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mys- terium iniquitatis" (15 January 2005, 19 August 2005).
Given these developments, this evening we must not simply reflect on the past forty years, for Nostra Aetate represents for us a serious obligation, respon- sibility and commitment for the future. As I have already said, the Declaration was merely the beginning of a beginning. Many historical and theological tasks remain to be encouraged and undertaken: we have fragments, but not yet a methodical theology of Judaism, and we look forward to — if possible — a Jewish theology of Christianity.
There is also before us the vast panorama of col- laboration in the social and cultural spheres: the con- struction of a world free from the wound of hunger and the scourge of terrorism, a world finally free from anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism; the con- struction of a truly humane and united society based on values held equally by Christians and Jews, one in which "the effect of righteousness will be peace" (Isa- iah 32:17), especially in the land that is holy for both. Moreover, we are challenged by a shared mission: to transmit the flame of hope, the core of religion, Jewish and Christian alike, to a new generation that has lost its bearings and its hope, so that it may construct a world in which — like the words of the psalmist — righteousness and peace will kiss each other (Psalm 84:10).
Dear ladies and gentlemen, let it be enough today to thank God for all that has been given to us in the forty years of our shared journey, and to thank all those who have contributed to reconciliation, friendship and Jewish-Christian peace. We pray that the Lord may accompany us in the next forty years as well and — God willing — for many other years, and forwards to a peaceful future in which — according to the promise made to Abraham — together we will be a blessing for all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:2ff.).
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