Meeting between American Jewish Committee and Pope John Paul II

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Sholom Comay

Città del Vaticano       16/03/1990

On March 16th 1990 a meeting took place at the Vatican between a delegation of the American Jewish Committee and Pope John Paul II. Sholom Comay, President of the American Jewish Committee, greeted the Pope in the name of the delegation. His text follows:

It is with warm sentiments of esteem and respect that I bring you the traditional greeting of shalom on behalf of this leadership delegation of the American Jewish Committee.

It has been 25 years since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and its adoption of the historic declaration Nostra Aetate. During the past quarter century, the American Jewish Committee has been privileged to play a major role in building mutual respect and understanding between Roman Catholics and the Jewish people. We have engaged in this effort because, like you, we share a profound commitment to overcoming the mistrust, suspicion and prejudice that have so often poisoned Catholic-Jewish relations.

Nostra Aetate and the several Catholic teaching and implementation documents that followed from it have irrevocably transformed Catholic-Jewish reltaions. The 1974 Vatican "Guidelines", the 1985 "Notes" and your own leadership efforts, including the 1986 address at the Rome Grand Synagogue and your addresses the following year in Miami and Los Angeles have been significant contributions to this vital undertaking.

Indeed, we believe that the development of constructive Catholic-Jewish relations throughout the world is one of the great success stories of this century. We especially commend the superb leadership of the Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews here at the Vatican and the Office of Catholic-jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States. And we appreciate the excellent work being done in the fields of Catholic teaching, preaching and liturgy.

The American Jewish Committee, America's pioneer human rights organization, works closely with Catholics on a host of universal concerns including human rights and religious liberty, immigration and refugees, racism, world hunger, war and peace, destructive religious cults and bioethics. The Amen-can Jewish Committee warmly welcomes the extraordinary positive changes through those past 25 years, and we reaffirm our pledge to work cooperatively with the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in the years ahead. We are especially proud that the American-Jewish Committee maintains close relationships with Polish-American organizations and other like-minded ethnic and religious groups in the United States in order to foster dialogue and mutual respect.

Five years ago when you met with another American Jewish Committee leadership delegation, you declared:
"Anti-Semitism, which is unfortunately still a problem in certain places, has been repeatedly condemned by the Catholic tradition as incompatible with Christ's teaching. I once again express the Catholic Church's repudiation of all oppression and persecution, and of all discrimination against people – from whatever side it may come – 'in law or in fact, on account of their race, origin, color, culture, sex or religion'."

While we celebrate the extraordinary changes that are currently taking place in the Soviet Unoin and in Eastern Europe, we are saddened and profoundly concerned by the growing reports of anti-Semitism in that part of the world. The existence of openly anti-Semitic organizations, public rallies and demonstrations, publications and threats of violence are increasing in number.

We strongly believe that the church (and Your Holiness) have a significant role to play in shaping the new Eastern Europe that is rapidly emerging. As you so eloquently declared –oppression, persecution and anti-Semitism must be repudiated and opposed "from whatever side it may come."

Your continued active leadership in publicly opposing all forms of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (by speaking out in terms that are clear to all) will help to guarantee that the recent gains, so painfully achieved, will not be lost by a resurgence of this ancient pathology. Together we must make every effort to ensure religious liberty, individual freedom and personal security for all peoples and groups.

The efforts by the Holy See to bring a mutually satisfactory resolution to the convent issue at Auschwitz are deeply appreciated. When we leave Rome, our delegation will visit Poland for a series of meetings with Catholic and governmental leaders.

Among those whom we will meet in Poland is Bishop Henryk Muszynski, chairman of the Polish episcopate's Commission for Dialogue With Judaism. Bishop Muszynski and his colleagues have played a key role in helping to resolve the convent crisis. We will also visit the Auschwitz death camp, and we welcome the news that ground has been broken for the construction of a new convent and a center for study and assembly. We hope and expect that the present convent will be vacated at the earliest practical date, in accordance with the agreement.

We believe the successful resoution of this crisis proves the ongoing strength, and not the weakness, of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue. The fact that we were able to work together to achieve a solution to a most difficult problem should not be underestimated, and hopefully the solution to the Auschwitz convent crisis can serve as a model to follow when other serious confrontations may arise between our two communities.

In less than 10 years, Christians will mark the beginning of the third Christian millennium of their faith. The current decade provides an opportunity to work for peace throughout the world in anticipation of the year 2000. And no part of the globe is more in need of the healing power of peace and reconciliation than the Middle East, an area sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Hopefully, the 1990s will be the decade when a just and lasting peace between the state of Israel and its neighbors is finally achieved.

Several of my colleagues here today, along with myself, have just concluded an intensive visit to Israel, and as always we were deeply stirred by the profound and palpable yearning for peace among the citizens of Israel. But the scourge of terrorism has been a serious stumbling block to the advancement of the peace process as has the doctrine of anti-Zionism. Once again the Holy See has forthrightly addressed these concerns. "Terrorist acts which have Jewish persons or symbols as their target have multiplied in recent years. Anti-Zionism... serves at times as a screen for anti-Semitism, feeding on it and leading to it" ("The Church and Racism: Toward a More Fraternal Society", Feb. 10, 1989).

In your Miami address you declared: "After the tragic extermination of the Shoah, the Jewish people began a new period in their history. They have a right to a homeland, as does any civil nation, according to international law", and your apostolic letter in 1984, Redemptionis Anno, spoke powerfully of the loving and eternal ties that exist between the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem and the land of Israel.

One of the most severe problems in achieving a Middle East peace is a prevalent belief held by many of Israel's foes that without formal diplomatic recognition by the international community, Israel's legitimacy, even its very existence, can somehow be undermined.

By taking the necessary steps to establish full and formal diplomatic relations with the state of Israel, we believe the Holy See will help dispel that myth and make a significant contribution to the peace process. Such a step would be an eternal contribution to achieving peace in that part of the world. Such an act by the Holy See would send a clear signal to the entire world that Israel is indeed a fully recognized member of the international family of nations and would enable the Holy See to make its right contribution to peace for the benefit of all people living in that troubled region. Peace will require a peacemaker like President Sadat. Your Holiness can be that peacemaker; what a contribution that would be to peace in the world.

We live in extraordinary, perhaps even miraculous times, and it is the mark of leadership to capture and use those moments in history when great and positive change is possible. That was the case 25 years ago when the Second Vatican Council adopted the Nostra Aetate declaration. And that is the case today when old patterns of thought and repressive systems of government are every where being severely challenged. It is our hope that history will judge us as equal to the challenges of today as were those men and women, including yourself, who a quarter century ago successfully reversed the harmful patterns of 1,900 years of Catholic-Jewish relations.

May God bless you with many more years of continued gifted leadership. The American Jewish Committee, for its part, pledges to continue its efforts to achieve those goals we share. There is much work left to do, and as the Talmud reminds us, "The day is short, the work is difficult and God, the sovereign of the universe, is urgent."

(source: ORIGINS 29/3/90)

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