Australia 18/07/2008Your Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Our host, his Eminence Cardinal Pell
Your eminences & reverend brethren.
It is my great pleasure and a great honour to welcome you to Sydney on behalf of the Australian Jewish community.
With me, I am delighted to present our elected federal and state lay leaders, Robert Goot and David Knoll, senior clerical colleagues, Rabbi Jeffery Kamins & Rabbi Zalman Kastel; our executive leaders, Josie Lacey and John Landerer, and our youth representatives, Judith Levitan, and Josh Levin.
Ours is a historic community, which can trace its origins to individuals who arrived in Sydney in 1788 on the First Fleet. Ours is a community which has enjoyed unbroken acceptance and equality from those initial days. Our community has flourished under the opportunities this beautiful country has afforded it. Our community has been proud to serve Australia. It has seen Jewish Governors General, distinguished law officers, leaders of education, welfare, medicine and philanthropy.
For some weeks, I have been asked from all quarters what it means to participate in this historic event. There is of course, delight, in any encounter with a person of great stature, who has devoted so much of his life to the spiritual enrichment of our world. On a personal level, I am bound to reflect that my grandparents, who were born in Berlin had to flee from there, just 70 years ago. Their parents, grandparents and siblings perished. When I am asked what it means for me to participate in this historic event, my very first reaction is that for them, and for their generation, such an encounter as today's would have been unthinkable; it would be quite beyond their imagination. So here we are in what is a different world, and in this respect a better world. It is a world which has become enriched and improved to a great part through the endeavours and enterprises of you and your worthy predecessors at the Vatican.
We recall, in particular, the humanity and wisdom of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. We reflect upon the landmark of Nostra Aetate, whose 40th anniversary we celebrated in October 2005 at my synagogue, The Great Synagogue, just across the park. It was our pleasure, then, to host a number of your distinguished Cardinals, amongst them, Cardinal Cassidy, whose personal contribution to interfaith work, and whose excellent relations with our Jewish community have helped to chart these new, positive, fraternal paths.
We recall, too, the significant acknowledgement by your predecessor, that anti-Semitism is a sin, with no place in Catholicism, no place in civilisation. We welcome his endorsement, that "at all levels of Christian instruction and education" be it teaching, preaching or dramatisation "Catholic teaching. . . presents Jews and Judaism... in an honest and objective manner, free from prejudices and without any offenses... an awareness of our common heritage" to "uproot the remains of anti-Semitism amongst the faithful."
Our Jewish liturgy contains blessings for seeing powerful leaders and great scholars - shenatan michvodo uchochmato levasar vedam - We bless God, who has imparted of his glory and his wisdom to flesh and blood. What do we mean, he has imparted of His glory? When God gives of His glory and His wisdom, it is no empty gift. God's glory and wisdom are purposeful and focused; they are a mandate, a charge. Though entrusted to us, they should remain His wisdom and His Glory. They are perceived and worthy of blessing when they are applied for the betterment of humanity and of His world.
Your Holiness, such is our welcome and blessing. That you may continue to illuminate humankind in the love of their fellows, their brothers, their sisters and love of God. That through such encounters as these, the positives of faith are emphasised over the disagreements. Our shared concerns for the environment, for the preservation of our climate and biodiversity... Our reverence for the sanctity of life, for the dignity of humankind in the home and in the workplace; for social justice, freedom from oppression, discrimination or persecution... Our faiths teach that we are all children of one body cast in God's image. Our two faiths revere that moment almost 3,500 years ago, when the people of Israel heard the voice of God at Sinai. There, he entrusted us with the mission and the message of holy living and the celebration of God in all aspects of our lives and to share it with our world.
Though we may differ profoundly in the details or interpretations, our shared points of origin should bind us together with an amity which is greater than the discord from our point of departure and our points of disagreement.
Faith is a teacher, a healer and a well-spring of peace. The Catholic community's celebration of World Youth Day, the magnificent program and enthusiastic participation by so many, highlights the continuing significance of faith in our world and among its youth. They have come in their hundreds of thousands to be close to you. They shall leave, richer and wiser, infused with the messages you impart.
Today's encounter reflects your Holiness' commitment to our ongoing dialogue. It is my prayer that its witnesses will learn from it, not only that faith is alive and is relevant and that it wears many robes... May they also learn from you, that faith is about respect for the humanity in us all, respect for the soul with which God has endowed each one of us; that we are each born the image of God, whatever creed, whatever colour... Our Scriptures elaborate on our love for our fellows, our neighbours and the stranger. Our world is shrinking and draws us all closer. For the sake of humanity, we must turn the strangers into our neighbours and our neighbours into our friends. We must celebrate the pioneers and the programs, who bring children of different backgrounds together to embark on shared projects of care and welfare; in the classroom, the Sunday school and the youth movements; who turn stereotypes of Jews, Christians and Moslems into human beings into friends and partners in a shared global village. We must follow their example, turn discussion into deed, ideas into action, together for humanity.
In the words of Deuteronomy, Baruch atah bevoecha - May the Almighty bless your coming here - for raising the spiritual profile of our city and awareness of faith in our society. Uvaruch atah betzaytecha - may you be blessed upon your departure, to return to your home in health. There, may you continue your dialogue with our religious leadership, with the rabbis and scholars who have facilitated the last four decades of rapprochement. When our time comes and our souls meet the souls of those who came before; I think of my grandparents and great-grandparents... They will see that we were fortunate to live in better times than they. May they also see as our legacy that we have made our world an even better world for our children and all God's children; and that through our endeavours we have made God's name greater for all humanity.
On behalf of the Jewish community, it is my honour and my pleasure, to welcome you to Sydney.
Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence
The Great Synagogue, Sydney
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