Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church

Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews
June 24, 1985

Preliminary Considerations

On March 6th, 1982, Pope John Paul II told delegates of episcopal conferences and other experts, meeting in Rome to study relations between the Church and Judaism:

You yourselves were concerned, during your sessions, with Catholic teaching and catechesis regarding Jews and Judaism. . . . We should aim, in this field, that Catholic teaching at its different levels, in catechesis to children and young people, presents Jews and Judaism, not only in an honest and objective manner, free from prejudices and without any offenses, but also with full awareness of the heritage common to Jews and Christians.

In this passage, so charged with meaning, the Holy Father plainly drew inspiration from the Council Declaration Nostra Aetate, 4, which says:

All should take pains, then, lest in catechetical instruction and in the preaching of God's Word they teach anything out of harmony with the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ; as also from these words: Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred Synod wishes to foster and recommend mutual understanding and respect.

In the same way, the Guidelines and Suggestions for implementing the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate (no. 4) ends its chapter III, entitled "Teaching and Education," which lists a number of practical things to be done, with this recommendation:

Information concerning these questions is important at all levels of Christian instruction and education. Among sources of information, special attention should be paid to the following:

catechisms and religious textbooks;
history books;
the mass media (press, radio, cinema, television).
The effective use of these means presupposes the thorough formation of instructors and educators in training schools, seminaries and universities" (AAS 77, 1975, 73).

The paragraphs which follow are intended to serve this purpose.

I. Religious Teaching and Judaism

1. In Nostra Aetate, 4, the Council speaks of the "spiritual bonds linking" Jews and Christians and of the "great spiritual patrimony" common to both and it further asserts that "the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to the mystery of God's saving design, the beginning of her faith and her election are already found among the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets."

2. Because of the unique relations that exist between Christianity and Judaism "linked together at the very level of their identity" (John Paul II, 6th March, 1982)-relations "founded on the design of the God of the Covenant" (ibid.), the Jews and Judaism should not occupy an occasional and marginal place in catechesis: their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated.

3. This concern for Judaism in Catholic teaching has not merely a historical or archeological foundation. As the Holy Father said in the speech already quoted, after he had again mentioned the "common patrimony" of the Church and Judaism as "considerable:" "To assess it carefully in itself and with due awareness of the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life pastoral of the Church" (italics added). It is a question then of pastoral concern for a still living reality closely related to the Church. The Holy Father has stated this permanent reality of the Jewish people in a remarkable theological formula, in his allocution to the Jewish community of West Germany at Mainz, on November 17th, 1980: "The people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked."

4. Here we should recall the passage in which the Guidelines and Suggestions (no. 1), tried to define the fundamental condition of dialogue: "respect for the other as he is," knowledge of the "basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism" and again learning "by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religion experience" (ibid., Introduction).

5. The singular character and the difficulty of Christian teaching about Jews and Judaism lies in this, that it needs to balance a number of pairs of ideas which express the relation between the two economies of the Old and New Testament:

Promise and Fulfillment
Continuity and Newness
Singularity and Universality
Uniqueness and Exemplary Nature.
This means that the theologian and the catechist who deals with the subject needs to show in his practice of teaching that: a) promise and fulfillment throw light on each other; b) newness ties in a metamorphosis of what was there before; c) the singularity of the people of the Old Testament is not exclusive and is open, in the divine vision, to a universal extension; and d) the uniqueness of the Jewish people is meant to have the force of an example.

6. Finally, "work that is of poor quality and lacking in precision would be extremely detrimental" to Judaeo-Christian dialogue (John Paul II, speech of March 6th, 1982). But it would be above all detrimental-since we are talking of teaching and education-to Christian identity (ibid.).

7. "In virtue of her divine mission, the Church" which is to be "the all-embracing means of salvation" in which alone "the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Unitatis Redintegratio, no. 3), "must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world" (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that it is through Him that we go to the Father (Jn. 14:6) "and this is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (Jn. 17:3).

Jesus affirms that there shall be "one flock and one shepherd" (Jn. 10:16). The Church and Judaism cannot, then, be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, "while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Dignitatis Humanae" (Guidelines and Suggestions, no. 1).

8. The urgency and importance of precise, objective and rigorously accurate teaching on Judaism for our faithful follows too from the danger of anti-Semitism which is always ready to reappear under different guises. The question is not merely to uproot from among the faithful the remains of anti-Semitism still to be found here and there, but much rather to arouse in them, through educational work, an exact knowledge of the wholly unique "bond" (Nostra Aetate, no. 4) which joins us as a Church to the Jews and to Judaism. In this way, they would learn to appreciate and love the latter, who have been chosen by God to prepare the coming of Christ and have preserved everything that was progressively revealed and given in the course of that preparation, notwithstanding their difficulty in recognizing in Him their Messiah.

II. Relations Between the Old1 and New Testament

1. Our aim should be to show the unity of Biblical Revelation (O.T. and N.T.) and of the divine plan, before speaking of each historical event, so as to stress that particular events have meaning when seen in history as a whole-from creation to fulfillment. This history concerns the whole human race and especially believers. Thus, the definitive meaning of the election of Israel does not become clear except in the light of the complete fulfillment (Rm. 9-11) and election in Jesus Christ is still better understood with reference to the announcement and the promise (cf. Heb. 4:1-11).

2. We are dealing with singular happenings which concern a singular nation but are destined, in the sight of God who reveals His purpose, to take on universal and exemplary significance. The aim is, moreover, to present the events of the Old Testament not as concerning only the Jews but also as touching us personally. Abraham is truly the father of our faith (Rm. 4:11-12; Roman Canon: patriarchae nostri Abrahae). And it is said (1 Co. 10:1): "Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea." The patriarchs, prophets and other personalities of the Old Testament have been venerated and always will be venerated as saints in the liturgical tradition of the Oriental Church as also of the Latin Church.

3. From the unity of the divine plan derives the problem of the relation between the Old and New Testaments. The Church already from apostolic times (1 Co. 10:11; Heb. 10:1) and then constantly in tradition resolved this problem by means of typology, which emphasizes the primordial value that the Old Testament must have in the Christian view. Typology, however, makes many people uneasy and is perhaps the sign of a problem unresolved.

4. Hence, in using typology, the teaching and practice which we have received from the Liturgy and from the Fathers of the Church, we should be careful to avoid any transition from the Old to the New Testament which might seem merely a rupture. The Church, in the spontaneity of the Spirit which animates her, has vigorously condemned the attitude of Marcion2 and always opposed his dualism.

5. It should also be emphasized that typological interpretation consists in reading the Old Testament as preparation and in certain aspects, outline and foreshadowing of the New (e.g., Heb. 5:5-10). Christ is henceforth the key point of reference to the Scriptures: "the rock was Christ" (1 Co. 10:4).

6. It is true, then, and should be stressed, that the Church and Christians read the Old Testament in the light of the event of the dead and risen Christ and that on these grounds there is a Christian reading of the Old Testament which does not necessarily coincide with the Jewish reading. Thus Christian identity and Jewish identity should be carefully distinguished in their respective reading of the Bible. But this detracts nothing from the value of the Old Testament in the Church and does nothing to hinder Christians from profiting discerningly from the traditions of Jewish reading.

7. Typological reading only manifests the unfathomable riches of the Old Testament, its inexhaustible content and the mystery of which it is full, and should not lead us to forget that it retains its own value as Revelation that the New Testament often does no more than resume (Mk. 12:29-31). Moreover, the New Testament itself demands to be read in the light of the Old. Primitive Christian catechesis constantly had recourse to this (e.g., 1 Co. 5:6-8; 10:1-11).

8. Typology further signifies reaching towards the accomplishment of the divine plan, when "God will be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28). This holds true also for the Church which, realized already in Christ, yet awaits its definitive perfecting as the Body of Christ. The fact that the Body of Christ is still tending towards its full stature (Eph. 4:12-19) takes nothing from the value of being a Christian. So also the calling of the patriarchs and Exodus from Egypt do not lose their importance and value in God's design from being at the same time intermediate stages (e.g., Nostra Aetate, no. 4).

9. The Exodus, for example, represents an experience of salvation and liberation that is not complete in itself, but has in it, over and above its own meaning, the capacity to be developed further. Salvation and liberation are already accomplished in Christ and gradually realized by the sacraments in the Church. This makes way for the fulfillment of God's design, which awaits its final consummation with the return of Jesus as Messiah, for which we pray each day. The Kingdom, for the coming of which we also pray each day, will be finally established. With salvation and liberation the elect and the whole of Creation will be transformed in Christ (Rm. 8:19-23).

10. Furthermore, in underlining the eschatological dimension of Christianity we shall reach a greater awareness that the people of God of the Old and the New Testament are tending towards a like end in the future: the coming or return of the Messiah-even if they start from two different points of view. It is more clearly understood that the person of the Messiah is not only a point of division for the people of God but also a point of convergence (Sussidi per l'ecumenismo, Diocese of Rome, no. 140). Thus it can be said that Jews and Christians meet in a comparable hope, grounded on the same promise made to Abraham (Gn. 12:1-3; Heb. 6:13-18).

11. Attentive to the same God who has spoken, hanging on the same Word, we have to witness to one same memory and one common hope in Him who is the master of history. We must also accept our responsibility to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah by working together for social justice, respect for the rights of persons and nations and for social and international reconciliation. To this we are driven, Jews and Christians, by the command to love our neighbor, by a common hope for the Kingdom of God and by the great heritage of the Prophets. Transmitted soon enough by catechesis, such a conception would teach young Christians in a practical way to cooperate with Jews, going beyond simple dialogue (cf. Guidelines, IV).

III. Jewish Roots of Christianity

12. Jesus was and always remained a Jew, his ministry was deliberately limited "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt. 15:24). Jesus is fully a man of his time, and of his environment-the Jewish Palestinian one of the first century, the anxieties and hopes of which he shared. This cannot but underline both the reality of the Incarnation and the very meaning of the history of salvation, as it has been revealed in the Bible (Rm. 1:3-4; Gal. 4:4-5).

13. Jesus' relations with biblical law and its more or less traditional interpretations are undoubtedly complex and he showed great liberty towards it (cf. the "antitheses" of the Sermon on the Mount, Mt. 5:21-48, bearing in mind the exegetical difficulties; and his attitude towards rigorous observance of the Sabbath: Mk. 3:1-6). But there is no doubt that he wished to submit himself to the law (Gal 4:4), that he was circumcised and presented in the Temple like any Jew of his time (Lk. 2:21, 22-24), that he was trained in the law's observance. He extolled respect for it (Mt. 5:17-20) and invited obedience to it (Mt. 8:4). The rhythm of his life was marked by observance of pilgrimages on great feasts, even from his infancy (Lk. 2:41-50; Jn. 2:13;7-10). The importance of the cycle of the Jewish feasts has been frequently underlined in the Gospel of John (cf. 2:13; 5:1; 7:2;10.37; 10:22; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28; 19:42).

14. It should be noted also that Jesus often taught in the Synagogues (Mt. 4:23; 9:35; Lk. 4:14-18; Jn. 18:20) and in the Temple (Jn. 18:20), which he frequented as did the disciples even after the Resurrection (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 21:26). He wished to put in the context of synagogue worship the proclamation of his Messiahship (Lk. 4:16-21). But above all he wished to achieve the supreme act of the gift of himself in the setting of the domestic liturgy of the Passover, or at least of the paschal festivity (Mk 14:1,12; Jn. 18:28). This also allows of a better understanding of the "memorial" character of the Eucharist.

15. Thus, the Son of God is incarnate in a people and a human family (Gal. 4:4; Rm. 9:5). This takes away nothing, quite the contrary, from the fact that he was born for all men (Jewish shepherds and pagan wise men are found at his crib: Lk. 2:8-20; Mt. 2:1-12) and died for all men (at the foot of the cross there are Jews, among them Mary and John: Jn. 19:25-27, and pagans like the centurion: Mk. 15:39 and parallels). Thus, he made two people one in his flesh (Eph. 2:14-17). This explains why with the Ecclesia ex gentibus we have, in Palestine and elsewhere, an Ecclesia ex circumcisione, of which Eusebius, for example, speaks (H.E., IV, 5).

16. His relations with the Pharisees were not always or wholly polemical. There are many proofs:

It is Pharisees who warn Jesus of the risks he is running (Lk. 13:31);
Some Pharisees are praised ("the scribe" of Mk. 12:34);
Jesus eats with Pharisees (Lk. 7:36; 14:1).
17. Jesus shares, with the majority of Palestinian Jews of that time, some pharisaic doctrines: the resurrection of the body; forms of piety, like aims-giving, prayer, fasting (Mt. 6:1-18) and the liturgical practice of addressing God as Father; the priority of the commandment to love God and our neighbor (Mk. 12:28-34). This is so also with Paul (Acts 23:8), who always considered his membership of the Pharisees as a title of honor (Acts 23:6; 26:5).

18. Paul also, like Jesus himself, use methods of reading and interpreting Scripture and of teaching his disciples which were common to the Pharisees of their time. This applies to the use of parables in Jesus' ministry, as also to the method of Jesus and Paul of supporting a conclusion with a quotation from Scripture.

19. It is noteworthy too that the Pharisees are not mentioned in accounts of the Passion. Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39) defends the apostles in a meeting of the Sanhedrin. An exclusively negative picture of the Pharisees is likely to be inaccurate and unjust (Guidelines, note 1; AAS, p. 76). If in the Gospel and elsewhere in the New Testament there are all sorts of unfavorable references to the Pharisees, they should be seen against the background of a complex and diversified movement. Criticisms of various types of Pharisees are moreover not lacking in rabbinical sources (the Babylonian Talmud and the Sotah treatise, 22b). "Phariseeism" in the pejorative sense can be rife in any religion. It may also be stressed that, if Jesus shows himself severe towards the Pharisees, it is because he is closer to them than to other contemporary Jewish groups.

20. All this should help us to understand better what St. Paul says (Rm. 11:16ff) about the "root" and the "branches." The Church and Christianity, for all their novelty, find their origin in the Jewish milieu of the first century of our era, and more deeply still in the "design of God" (Nostra Aetate, no. 4), realized in the Patriarchs, Moses and the Prophets, down to its consummation in Christ Jesus.

IV. The Jews in the New Testament

21. The Guidelines already say (no. 1) that "the formula 'the Jews' sometimes, according to the context, means 'the leaders of the Jews' or the 'the adversaries of Jesus,' terms which express better the thought of the evangelist and avoid appearing to arraign the Jewish people as such." An objective presentation of the role of the Jewish people in the New Testament should take account of these various facts:

A) The Gospels are the outcome of long and complicated editorial work. The dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum, following the Pontifical Biblical Commission's Instruction Sancta Mater Ecclesia, distinguished three stages: "The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explicating some things in view of the situation of their Churches, and preserving the form of proclamation, but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus" (no. 19). Hence, it cannot be ruled out that some references hostile or less than favorable to the Jews have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent Church and the Jewish community. Certain controversies reflect Christian-Jewish relations long after the time of Jesus. To establish this is of capital importance if we wish to bring out the meaning of certain Gospel texts for the Christians of today. All this should be taken into account when preparing catechesis and homilies for the last weeks of Lent and Holy Week (Guidelines, II, Sussidi per l'ecumenismo nella diocesi di Roma, 1982, 144b).
B) It is clear on the other hand that there were conflicts between Jesus and certain categories of Jews of his time, among them Pharisees, from the beginning of his ministry (Mk. 2:1-11,24; 3:6).

C) There is moreover the sad fact that the majority of the Jewish people and its authorities did not believe in Jesus-a fact not merely of history but of theological bearing, of which St. Paul tries hard to plumb the meaning (Rm. chi. 9-11).

D) This fact, accentuated as the Christian mission developed, especially among the pagans, led inevitably to a rupture between Judaism and the young Church, now irreducibly separated and divergent in faith, and this stage of affairs is reflected in the texts of the New Testament and particularly in the Gospels. There is no question of playing down or glossing over this rupture; that could only prejudice the identity of either side. Nevertheless it certainly does not cancel the spiritual "bond" of which the Council speaks (Nostra Aetate, no. 4) and which we propose to dwell on here.

E) Reflecting on this in the light of Scripture, notably of the chapters cited from the epistle to the Romans, Christians should never forget that the faith is a free gift of God (Rm. 9:12) and that we should never judge the consciences of others. St. Paul's exhortation "do not boast" in your attitude to "the root" (Rm. 11:18) has its full point here.

F) There is no putting the Jews who knew Jesus and did not believe in him, or those who opposed the preaching of the apostles, on the same plane with Jews who came after or those of today. If the responsibility of the former remains a mystery hidden with God (Rm. 11:25), the latter are in an entirely different situation. Vatican II in the Declaration on Religious Liberty teaches that "all men should be immune from coercion . . . and no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs" (no. 2). This is one of the bases-proclaimed by the Council-on which the Judaeo-Christian dialogue rests.

22. The delicate question of responsibility for the death of Christ must be looked at from the standpoint of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate, (no. 4) and of the Guidelines and Suggestions (part III): "What happened in (Christ's) passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living without distinction nor upon the Jews of today," especially since "authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ." Again, further on: "Christ in his boundless love freely underwent his passion and death because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation" (Nostra Aetate, no. 4). The Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches that Christian sinners are more to blame for the death of Christ than those few Jews who brought is about - they indeed "knew not what they did" (Lk. 23:34) and we know it only too well. In the same way and for the same reason, "the Jews should not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from the holy Scriptures" (Nostra Aetate, no. 4), even though it is true that "the Church is the new people of God."

V. The Liturgy

23. Jews and Christians find in the Bible the very substance of their liturgy: for the proclamation of God's Word, response to it, prayer of praise and intercession for the living and the dead, recourse to the divine mercy. The Liturgy of the Word in its own structure originates in Judaism. The prayer of Hours and other liturgical texts and formularies have their parallels in Judaism as do the very formulas of our most venerable prayers, among them the Our Father. The Eucharistic Prayers also draw inspiration from models in the Jewish tradition. As John Paul II said (Allocution of March 6th, 1982): "The faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life of the Church. Such is the case of liturgy" .

24. This is particularly evident in the great feasts of the liturgical year, like the Passover. Christians and Jews celebrate the Passover: the Jews, the historic Passover looking towards the future; the Christians, the Passover accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ, although still in expectation of the final consummation (cf. supra no. 9). It is still the "memorial" which comes to us from the Jewish tradition, with a specific content different in each case. On either side, however, there is a like dynamism: for Christians it gives meaning to the eucharistic celebration (cf. the antiphon O sacrum convivium), a paschal celebration and as such a making present of the past, but experienced in the expectation of what is to come.

VI. Judaism and Christianity in History

25. The history of Israel did not end in 70 A. D. (cf. Guidelines, II). It continued, especially in a numerous Diaspora which allowed Israel to carry to the whole world a witness-often heroic-of its fidelity to the one God and to "exalt Him in the presence of all the living" (Tobit 13:4), while preserving the memory of the land of their forefathers at the heart of their hope (Passover Seder). Christians are invited to understand this religious attachment which finds its roots in Biblical tradition, without however making their own any particular religious interpretation of this relationship (cf. Declaration of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 20, 1975). The existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law. The permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God's design. We must in any case rid ourselves of the traditional idea of a people punished, preserved as a living argument for Christian apologetic. It remains a chosen people, "the pure olive on which were grafted the branches of the wild olive which are the gentiles" (John Paul II, 6 March 1982, alluding to Rm. 11:17-24). We must remember how much the balance of relations between Jews and Christians over two thousand years has been negative. We must remind ourselves how the permanence of Israel is accompanied by a continuous spiritual fecundity, in the rabbinical period, in the Middle Ages and in modern times, taking its start from a patrimony which we long shared, so much so that "the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life of the Church" (John Paul II, 6 March 1982). Catechesis should on the other hand help in understanding the meaning for the Jews of the extermination during the years 1939-1945, and its consequences.

26. Education and catechesis should concern themselves with the problem of racism, still active in different forms of anti-Semitism. The Council presented it thus: "Moreover, [the Church] mindful of her common patrimony with the Jews and motivated by the Gospel's spiritual love and by no political considerations, deplores the hatred, persecutions and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and from any source" (Nostra Aetate, no. 4). The Guidelines comment: "The spiritual bonds and historical links binding the Church to Judaism condemn (as opposed to the very spirit of Christianity) all forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination, which in any case the dignity of the human person alone would suffice to condemn" (Guidelines, Preamble).


27. Religious teaching, catechesis and preaching should be a preparation not only for objectivity, justice, and tolerance but also for understanding and dialogue. Our two traditions are so related that they cannot ignore each other. Mutual knowledge must be encouraged at every level. There is evident in particular a painful ignorance of the history and traditions of Judaism, of which only negative aspects and often caricature seem to form part of the stock ideas of many Christians. That is what these notes aim to remedy. This would mean that the Council text and Guidelines and Suggestions would be more easily and faithfully put into practice.

Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, President
Pierre Duprey, Vice-President
Jorge Mejia, Secretary


1. We continue to use the expression Old Testament because it is traditional (cf. 2 Co. 3:14) but also because "Old" does not mean "out of date" or "outworn." In any case, it is the permanent value of the O.T. as a source of Christian Revelation that is emphasized here (cf. Dei Verbum, no. 3).

2. A man of gnostic tendency who in the second century rejected the Old Testament and part of the New as the work of an evil god, a demiurge. The Church reacted strongly against this heresy (cf. Irenaeus).

Reflections on Covenant and Mission

Consultation of

The National Council of Synagogues and

The Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB

August 12, 2002

[Webmaster's Note: Two USCCB press releases about this text are noteworthy. In an August 12th press release, Cardinal William Keeler, the bishops' moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations, introduced the document as "a significant step forward to the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community in this country," adding that "Here one can see, perhaps more clearly than ever before, an essential compatibility, along with equally significant differences, between the Christian and Jewish understandings of God's call to both our peoples to witness to the name of the one God to the world in harmony." A further press release on August 16th (which follows the document below) clarified that the text was not a statement by the entire U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as had been erroneously reported in some media stories.]


For more than twenty years leaders of the Jewish and Roman Catholic communities in the United States have met semi-annually to discuss a wide range of topics affecting Catholic-Jewish relations. Currently, the participants in these ongoing consultations are delegates of the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (BCEIA) and of the National Council of Synagogues (NCS). The NCS represents the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The Consultation is co-chaired by His Eminence William Cardinal Keeler, the U.S. bishops’ moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations and Rabbi Joel Zaiman, of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism and Rabbi Michael Signer of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The dialogues have previously produced public statements on such issues as Children and the Environment and Acts of Religious Hatred.

At its meeting held on March 13, 2002 in New York City, the BCEIA-NCS Consultation examined how the Jewish and Roman Catholic traditions currently understand the subjects of Covenant and Mission. Each delegation prepared reflections that were discussed and clarified by the Consultation as statements of the current state of the question in each community. The BCEIA-NCS Consultation voted to issue its considerations publicly in order to encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics throughout the United States. After taking time to refine the initial statements, the separate Roman Catholic and Jewish reflections on the subjects of Covenant and Mission are presented below.

The Roman Catholic reflections describe the growing respect for the Jewish tradition that has unfolded since the Second Vatican Council. A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with a recognition of a divinely-given mission to Jews to witness to God’s faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.

The Jewish reflections describe the mission of the Jews and the perfection of the world. This mission is seen to have three aspects. First there are the obligations that arise as a result of the loving election of the Jewish people into a covenant with God. Second, there is a mission of witness to God’s redeeming power in the world. Third, the Jewish people have a mission that is addressed to all human beings. The Jewish community is beginning to consider how Judaism’s missions might be related to Catholicism’s understanding of its mission for the world.

The NCS-BCEIA Consultation is concerned about the continuing ignorance and caricatures of one another that still prevail in many segments of the Catholic and Jewish communities. It is the hope of the Consultation that these reflections will be read and discussed as part of an ongoing process of increasing mutual understanding.

The NCS-BCEIA Consultation reaffirms its commitment to continue deepening our dialogue and to promote amity between the Jewish and Catholic communities in the United States.



The gifts brought by the Holy Spirit to the Church through the Second Vatican Council’s declaration Nostra Aetate continue to unfold. The decades since its proclamation in 1965 have witnessed a steady rapprochement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish people. Although controversies and misunderstandings continue to occur, there has nonetheless been a gradual deepening of mutual understanding and common purpose.

Nostra Aetate also inspired a series of magisterial instructions, including three documents prepared by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews: Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration, Nostra Aetate No. 4 (1974); Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church (1985); and We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998). Pope John Paul II has offered many addresses and engaged in several important actions that have furthered Catholic and Jewish amity. Numerous statements concerning Catholic-Jewish relations have also been composed by national conferences of Catholic bishops from around the world. In the United States, the conference of Catholic bishops and its committees have issued many relevant documents, including: Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations (1967, 1985); Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion (1988); God's Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching (1988); and most recently Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See’s We Remember (2001).

A survey of these Catholic statements over the past few decades shows that they have progressively been considering more and more aspects of the complex relationship between Jews and Catholics, together with their impact on the practice of the Catholic faith. This work inspired by Nostra Aetate has involved interfaith dialogue, collaborative educational ventures, and joint theological and historical research by Catholics and Jews. It will continue into the new century.

At the present moment in this process of renewal, the subjects of covenant and mission have come to the forefront. Nostra Aetate initiated this thinking by citing Romans 11:28-29 and describing the Jewish people as "very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made."1 John Paul II has explicitly taught that Jews are "the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God,"2 "the present-day people of the covenant concluded with Moses,"3 and "partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked."4

The post-Nostra Aetate Catholic recognition of the permanence of the Jewish people’s covenant relationship to God has led to a new positive regard for the post-biblical or rabbinic Jewish tradition that is unprecedented in Christian history. The Vatican’s 1974 Guidelines insisted that Christians "must strive to learn by what essential traits Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience."5 The 1985 Vatican Notes praised post-biblical Judaism for carrying "to the whole world a witness-often heroic-of its fidelity to the one God and to ‘exalt Him in the presence of all the living’ (Tobit 13:4)."6 The Notes went on to refer to John Paul II in urging Christians to remember "how the permanence of Israel is accompanied by a continuous spiritual fecundity, in the rabbinical period, in the Middle Ages and in modern times, taking its start from a patrimony which we long shared, so much so that ‘the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life of the Church’ (John Paul II, 6 March 1982)."7 This theme has been taken up in statements by the United States Catholic bishops, such as God’s Mercy Endures Forever, which advised preachers to "[b]e free to draw on Jewish sources (rabbinic, medieval, and modern) in expounding the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures and the apostolic writings."8

Post-biblical Judaism’s "spiritual fecundity" continued in lands in which Jews were a tiny minority. This was true in Christian Europe even though, as Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy has noted, "from the time of the Emperor Constantine on, Jews were isolated and discriminated against in the Christian world. There were expulsions and forced conversions. Literature propagated stereotypes [and] preaching accused the Jews of every age of deicide."9 This historical summary intensifies the importance of the teaching of the 1985 Vatican Notes that, "The permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God's design."10

Knowledge of the history of Jewish life in Christendom also causes such biblical texts as Acts 5:33-39 to be read with new eyes. In that passage the Pharisee Gamaliel declares that only undertakings of divine origin can endure. If this New Testament principle is considered by Christians today to be valid for Christianity, then it must logically also hold for post-biblical Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism, which developed after the destruction of the Temple, must also be "of God."

In addition to these theological and historical considerations, in the decades since Nostra Aetate many Catholics have been blessed with the opportunity to experience personally Judaism’s rich religious life and God’s gifts of holiness.

The Mission of the Church: Evangelization

Such reflections on and experiences of the Jewish people’s eternal covenantal life with God raise questions about the Christian task of bearing witness to the gifts of salvation that the Church receives through her "new covenant" in Jesus Christ. The Second Vatican Council summed up the Church’s mission as follows:

While helping the world, and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is "the universal sacrament of salvation," simultaneously manifesting and exercising the mystery of God’s love for humanity.11

This mission of the Church can be summarized in one word: evangelization. Pope Paul VI gave the classic definition, "The Church appreciates that evangelization means the carrying forth of the good news to every sector of the human race so that by its strength it may enter into the hearts of men and renew the human race."12 Evangelization refers to a complex reality that is sometimes misunderstood by reducing it only to the seeking of new candidates for baptism. It is the Church’s continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ, who embodied the life of the kingdom of God. As Pope John Paul II has explained,

The kingdom is the concern of everyone: individuals, society and the world. Working for the kingdom means acknowledging and promoting God’s activity, which is present in human history and transforms it. Building the kingdom means working for liberation from evil in all its forms. In a word, the kingdom of God is the manifestation and the realization of God’s plan of salvation in all its fullness.13

It should be stressed that evangelization, the Church’s work on behalf of the kingdom of God, cannot be separated from its faith in Jesus Christ in whom Christians find the kingdom "present and fulfilled."14 Evangelization includes the Church’s activities of presence and witness; commitment to social development and human liberation; Christian worship, prayer, and contemplation; interreligious dialogue; and proclamation and catechesis.15

This latter activity of proclamation and catechesis the "invitation to a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ and to entry through baptism into the community of believers which is the church"16 is sometimes thought to be synonymous with "evangelization." However, this is a very narrow construal and is indeed only one among many aspects of the Church’s "evangelizing mission" in the service of Gods’ kingdom. Thus, Catholics participating in interreligious dialogue, a mutually enriching sharing of gifts devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism, are nonetheless witnessing to their own faith in the kingdom of God embodied in Christ. This is a form of evangelization, a way of engaging in the Church’s mission.

Evangelization and the Jewish People

Christianity has an utterly unique relationship with Judaism because "our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their respective religious identities."17

The history of salvation makes clear our special relationship with the Jewish people. Jesus belongs to the Jewish people, and he inaugurated his church within the Jewish nation. A great part of the Holy Scriptures, which we Christians read as the word of God, constitute a spiritual patrimony which we share with Jews. Consequently, any negative attitude in their regard must be avoided, since "in order to be a blessing for the world, Jews and Christians need first to be a blessing for each other."18

In the wake of Nostra Aetate, there has been a deepening Catholic appreciation of many aspects of our unique spiritual linkage with Jews. Specifically, the Catholic Church has come to recognize that its mission of preparing for the coming of the kingdom of God is one that is shared with the Jewish people, even if Jews do not conceive of this task christologically as the Church does. Thus, the 1985 Vatican Notes observed:

Attentive to the same God who has spoken, hanging on the same Word, we have to witness to one same memory and one common hope in Him who is the master of history. We must also accept our responsibility to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah by working together for social justice, respect for the rights of persons and nations and for social and international reconciliation. To this we are driven, Jews and Christians, by the command to love our neighbor, by a common hope for the Kingdom of God and by the great heritage of the Prophets.19

If the Church, therefore, shares a central and defining task with the Jewish people, what are the implications for the Christian proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ? Ought Christians to invite Jews to baptism? This is a complex question not only in terms of Christian theological self-definition, but also because of the history of Christians forcibly baptizing Jews.

In a remarkable and still most pertinent study paper presented at the sixth meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Venice twenty-five years ago, Prof. Tommaso Federici examined the missiological implications of Nostra Aetate. He argued on historical and theological grounds that there should be in the Church no organizations of any kind dedicated to the conversion of Jews. This has over the ensuing years been the de facto practice of the Catholic Church.

More recently, Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Religious Relations with the Jews, explained this practice. In a formal statement made first at the seventeenth meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in May 2001, and repeated later in the year in Jerusalem, Cardinal Kasper spoke of "mission" in a narrow sense to mean "proclamation" or the invitation to baptism and catechesis. He showed why such initiatives are not appropriately directed at Jews:

The term mission, in its proper sense, refers to conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God, who revealed himself in the salvation history with His elected people. Thus mission, in this strict sense, cannot be used with regard to Jews, who believe in the true and one God. Therefore, and this is characteristic, there exists dialogue but there does not exist any Catholic missionary organization for Jews.

As we said previously, dialogue is not mere objective information; dialogue involves the whole person. So in dialogue Jews give witness of their faith, witness of what supported them in the dark periods of their history and their life, and Christians give account of the hope they have in Jesus Christ. In doing so, both are far away from any kind of proselytism, but both can learn from each other and enrich each other. We both want to share our deepest concerns to an often -disoriented world that needs such witness and searches for it.20

From the point of view of the Catholic Church, Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation. As Cardinal Kasper noted, "God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises."21

This statement about God’s saving covenant is quite specific to Judaism. Though the Catholic Church respects all religious traditions and through dialogue with them can discern the workings of the Holy Spirit, and though we believe God's infinite grace is surely available to believers of other faiths, it is only about Israel’s covenant that the Church can speak with the certainty of the biblical witness. This is because Israel’s scriptures form part of our own biblical canon and they have a "perpetual value . . . that has not been canceled by the later interpretation of the New Testament."22

According to Roman Catholic teaching, both the Church and the Jewish people abide in covenant with God. We both therefore have missions before God to undertake in the world. The Church believes that the mission of the Jewish people is not restricted to their historical role as the people of whom Jesus was born "according to the flesh" (Rom 9:5) and from whom the Church’s apostles came. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger recently wrote, "God’s providence … has obviously given Israel a particular mission in this ‘time of the Gentiles.’"23 However, only the Jewish people themselves can articulate their mission "in the light of their own religious experience."24

Nonetheless, the Church does perceive that the Jewish people’s mission ad gentes (to the nations) continues. This is a mission that the Church also pursues in her own way according to her understanding of covenant. The command of the Resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:19 to make disciples "of all nations" (Greek = ethnē, the cognate of the Hebrew = goyim; i.e., the nations other than Israel) means that the Church must bear witness in the world to the Good News of Christ so as to prepare the world for the fullness of the kingdom of God. However, this evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history.

Thus, while the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. The Catholic Church must always evangelize and will always witness to its faith in the presence of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ to Jews and to all other people. In so doing, the Catholic Church respects fully the principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, so that sincere individual converts from any tradition or people, including the Jewish people, will be welcomed and accepted.

However, it now recognizes that Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity. The distinctive Jewish witness must be sustained if Catholics and Jews are truly to be, as Pope John Paul II has envisioned, "a blessing to one another."25 This is in accord with the divine promise expressed in the New Testament that Jews are called to "serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before God all [their] days" (Luke 1:74-75).

With the Jewish people, the Catholic Church, in the words of Nostra Aetate, "awaits the day, known to God alone, when all peoples will call on God with one voice and serve him shoulder to shoulder (Soph 3:9; see Is 66:23; Ps 65:4; Rom 11:11-32)."26



In the endless quest to bring meaning to life, communities, just like individuals, seek to define their mission in the world. So it is certainly for the Jews.

The mission of the Jews is part of a three-fold mission that is rooted in Scripture and developed in later Jewish sources. There is, first, the mission of covenant: the ever-formative impetus to Jewish life that results from the covenant between God and the Jews. Second, the mission of witness, whereby the Jews see themselves (and are frequently seen by others) as God’s eternal witnesses to His existence and to His redeeming power in the world. And third, the mission of humanity, a mission that understands the Biblical history of the Jews as containing a message to more than the Jews alone. It presupposes a message and a mission addressed to all human beings.

The Mission of Covenant

The Jews are the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the physical embodiment of God’s covenant with these ancestors.

Abraham not only sets out on a journey to the Land of Canaan after being called by God, but when he is ninety-nine years old, God appears to him and tells him: “Walk in my ways and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.”27 The covenant is described as “everlasting,…to be God to you and to your offspring to come.28 The covenant involves the Land of Canaan which is an everlasting holding.29 There is a physical symbol of the covenant: the circumcision of all males on the eighth day of their lives.

The covenant is both physical and spiritual. The Jews are a physical people. The covenant is a covenant of the flesh. The Land is a physical place. But it is also a covenant of the spirit for it is connected to “walking in His ways.”

The Jews are a people called into existence by God through a loving election. Why would God do such a thing? The Torah tells us the story of a unique God who, so different from the God of Aristotle, was not content with contemplating Himself. It is a great mystery, but God, who is essentially beyond our ken, willed a world into existence. He gave His creatures a single commandment, not to eat of a certain fruit of the Garden of Eden. What, of course, do they do? They eat the fruit.

And so God, who had decided to share His ineffable self, was denied. It was not long before the earth became corrupt before God. And so He began again, destroying the creation, bringing the primordial waters back together and leaving only Noah and his family. Yet that too does not work, for no sooner are they out of the Ark than Noah gets drunk and uncovers himself. Downhill again—until the Torah begins the story that works, that is the heart of the Bible’s saga: the story of Abraham and his progeny, the Jews.

The covenant is not just a promise or a general exhortation toward perfection. When the People of Israel has turned into a large community and has suffered Pharaoh’s bondage, the people is redeemed from Egypt with extraordinary wonders. They come to Sinai and the covenant gains its content: the laws and statutes given there and subsequently in the Tent of Meeting.

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now, then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”30

To Jews this is not divine flattery but the burden of divine obligation. And this, then, is the theological definition of the Jews: a physical people called upon to live in a special relationship with God. That relation has specific content. There are rewards for its observance, punishments for its abandonment.

Such a view of the Jews is not tailored to fit the normal sociological definitions of a people, a community or a folk. It is even possible that most Jews would be uncomfortable with this theological sociology. People are usually more satisfied with picturing the Jews either as an ethnic group or as a faith community untied to a people. But that is not the notion of the Jews in the Bible and in later Jewish literature. The Jews are, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, partners with God in a sometimes stormy and sometimes idyllic romance, in a loving marriage that binds God and the People of Israel together forever and which gives the deepest possible meaning to Jewish existence.

The practical result of all of this is that the first mission of the Jews is toward the Jews. It means that the Jewish community is intent upon preserving its identity. Since that does not always happen naturally, it is the reason why Jews talk to each other constantly about institutional strengths and the community’s ability to educate its children. It creates an abhorrence of intermarriage. It explains the passion to study the Torah. The stakes are high in Jewish life and in order not to abandon God, the Jewish community expends a great deal of energy seeing to it that the covenantal community works.

The Mission of Witness

Isaiah speaks to a role the Jews play that goes beyond themselves. “My witnesses are you—declares the Lord—my servant whom I have chosen.”31

The Jews are His witnesses that there is a God in the world who is its Creator, that He is one and that idols have no power - “To me every knee shall bend and every tongue vow loyalty”32 - and that the power of God is a redemptive power, one more awesome than human beings can conceive.

How is the power of God manifest? In the life of nations, including the fall and rise of the nation of Israel. And it is well known through the Torah and the prophetic books that the suffering of Israel is understood to be a witness to God’s covenant with Israel.

What is not understood, at least not well enough, is that God wants the nations to see the redemption of Israel and be impressed. That is, for example, what God wants the Pharaoh and the people of Egypt to see. It is not enough, apparently, to simply redeem the people of Israel from bondage. The redemption is designed to be public, filled with signs and wonders. For it is designed to teach the great nation of Egypt about the power, the glory and the interest of the God of Israel in redeeming slaves.

It is also in this sense that the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Jews as a “light to nations.” “I raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel: I will also make you a light to nations, that My salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”33 The nations will look and see the redemption of the people of Israel and they will be amazed. They will therefore learn, if they had not learned before, that the Lord, God of Israel, restores His people to His land.

The herald of joy to Zion says: “Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain.”34 This is not rhetoric about some mystical manifestation of God transforming nature. It is bold imagery to speak about the creation of an extraordinary highway to bring back the exiled people to their land.

While we spend a good deal of time thinking about our sins, it is not suffering that is God’s message. God’s message is the power of repentance and the power of His love as manifested in the redemption of Israel. One of the great needs of theology, therefore, is to detach itself from the message of suffering. The great message of God is the power of redemption. The great hope of the Jews is their redemption and the rebuilding of their nation state. The witness to be borne is the witness of God who redeems His people.

The Mission of Humanity

The message of the Bible is a message and a vision not only to Israel but to all of humanity. Isaiah speaks twice of the Jews as a light to peoples and I have so far referred to his statement in the forty-ninth chapter. What else does he mean when he speaks of the Jews as a “covenant people and a light to nations?” The medieval commentator, David Kimhi, sees the light that comes forth as the light of the Torah that comes forth from Zion. Since the message of the Torah is peace, the light that comes forth conveys a message of the blessing of peace that ought reign throughout the world.35 The messianic vision is: “And he shall speak peace to the nations.”36 Thus, Isaiah notes that in those times “He will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples. And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”37

It is a mistake to be like Jonah and to think that God is concerned only with the Jews. When Jonah is asked to go to Nineveh, a great gentile city, Jonah refuses God’s command to tell the people of Nineveh to repent. He only learns through suffering that God’s word is to the Ninevites as well. He finally goes there and the people of Nineveh call a fast. Great and small alike put on sackcloth, even the king. Not only did they fast for the Bible says that they “turned back from their evil ways.”38

Though one might have thought that Jonah would be thrilled by his success, he is bereft—and there are probably two reasons for this. First, he believed that sin should be punished and that God’s mercies should not take away that punishment. And second, who were the people of Nineveh? What right did they have to expect God’s intimate concern and forgiving love?

Jonah leaves the city and sits to its east, making a booth and sitting in its shade. And the Lord makes a gourd to grow above him, providing shade over his head. Jonah was so happy! Until God appointed a worm at dawn the next day who attacked the plant until it withered. And then God brought up a light east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head until he fainted. And he wanted to die.

Then God says to Jonah, “Are you so deeply angry about the plant?…You care about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight. And should I not care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than twelve myriad persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well!”39

The God of the Bible is the God of the world. His visions are visions for all of humanity. His love is a love that extends to every creature.

The suffering man of the Scriptures, Job, is not portrayed in any way as if he is a Jew.40 Is it any wonder? The suffering of humanity is limited to no particular people. The covenant might make the issue particularly troublesome for Jews,41 but all of us try to come to terms with the problem of the righteous who suffer. Job is a universal human being. God’s call to him out of the whirlwind is God’s call throughout the world to the righteous who try to understand the meaning of their fate.

The God who loved Abraham—“But you, Israel My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham the one I love”42—loves all people. For He is the Creator of the world. Adam and Eve were His first creations and they are created long before the first Jews. They are created in “the image of God,” as are all of their children to eternity. Only the human creation is in the divine image.

God created the world with only one original being, the Talmud says, to teach that everyone who destroys a single soul, it is as if he had destroyed the whole world.43 And everyone who saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the whole world. And it teaches the concept of peace in the world, such that no one should say: my father is greater than your father.44

“Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?”45 All are God’s people.

When Abraham raises the issue of divine justice and mercy with God, he argues on behalf of the people of Sodom, a wicked group. Abraham frames his challenge to God in terms of God acting justly.46 The innocent should not suffer. And the challenge is not made as a result of any special relation that devolves from the covenant God has made with the Jews. Rather, the Bible assumes that there is a divine justice and mercy that prevail throughout the entire world. Mercy and justice reign because the God of Creation is the God of mercy and justice throughout the world.

When Amos asks that “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream,”47 it is because there is a God of the whole world who calls it to justice. When Isaiah rhetorically asks what the meaning of religious fasting is, he answers that God wishes human beings to “loose the chains of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring the poor, who are cast out, to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?”48

Judaism assumes that all people are obligated to observe a universal law. That law, spoken of as the Seven Noahide Commandments, is applicable to all human beings. These laws are: (1) the establishment of courts of justice so that law will rule in society, and the prohibitions of (2) blasphemy, (3) idolatry, (4) incest, (5) bloodshed, (6) robbery, and (7) eating the flesh of a living animal.49

The fact of the covenant notwithstanding, Maimonides and subsequent decisors all make it clear that "the pious of all the nations of the world have a place in the world to come."50

Therefore, in Judaism, the absolute value of human beings, their creation in the divine image, as well as God’s overriding concern for justice and mercy is at the basis of a universal joint community of the created, a community called to respond to the love of God by loving other human beings, by setting up the structures of society that maximize the practice of justice and mercy and by engaging unendingly in the religious quest to bring healing to the broken world.

One of the central prayers of Judaism puts it this way: “We hope in you, Lord our God, to quickly see the beauty of Your might, to cause the idols to pass away from the earth and the false gods cut down, to perfect the world into the Kingdom of the Almighty, where all flesh will call upon your name, where all the wicked of the earth will be turned to you.”

L’taken olam b’malkhut Shaddai, to perfect the world into the Kingdom of the Almighty. Tikun ha- olam, perfection or repairing of the world, is a joint task of the Jews and all humanity. Though Jews see themselves as living in a world that is as yet unredeemed, God wills His creatures to participate in the world’s repair.

Christians and Jews

Having examined the three-fold notion of “mission” in classical Judaism, there are certain practical conclusions that follow from it, conclusions that also suggest a joint agenda for Christians and Jews.

It should be obvious that any mission of Christians to the Jews is in direct conflict with the Jewish notion that the covenant itself is that mission. At the same time, it is important to stress that notwithstanding the covenant, there is no need for the nations of the world to embrace Judaism. While there are theological verities such as the belief in God’s unity, and practical social virtues that lead to the creation of a good society that are possible and necessary for humanity at large to grasp, they do not require Judaism in order to redeem the individual or society. The pious of all the nations of the world have a place in the world to come.

Just as important, however, is the idea that the world needs perfection. While Christians and Jews understand the messianic hope involved in that perfection quite differently, still, whether we are waiting for the messiah—as Jews believe—or for the messiah’s second coming—as Christians believe—we share the belief that we live in an unredeemed world that longs for repair.

Why not articulate a common agenda? Why not join together our spiritual forces to state and to act upon the values we share in common and that lead to repair of the unredeemed world? We have worked together in the past in advancing the cause of social justice. We have marched together for civil rights; we have championed the cause of labor and farm workers; we have petitioned our government to address the needs of the poor and homeless; and we have called on our country’s leader to seek nuclear disarmament. These are but a few of the issues we Jews and Christians have addressed in concert with each other.

To hint at what we might yet do together let us look at some of the concrete ways that classical Judaism takes theological ideas and transforms them into ways of living. And, if these be stones in a pavement on which we might together walk, then we will be able to fashion a highway that is a route we share in common toward humanity’s repair and the world’s perfection.

Some Talmudic Thoughts about Repairing the World

Though the prophetic concern for the needy is well known, it should be stressed that it is in the Talmud that the specifics of doing good are laid out in such a way that they become the cornerstones of life.

“Tzedakah (charity) and deeds of kindness are weighed in the balance as equal to all the commandments of the Torah. The obligation of charity is directed at the poor and deeds of kindness are directed at the poor and the rich. Charity is directed at the living and deeds of kindness are rendered to the living and to the dead. Charity utilizes one’s money while deeds of kindness utilize one’s money and one’s self.”51

Already in Talmudic times, charitable institutions to care for the poor were an established and essential part of the community’s life. When, for example, the Mishnah teaches that a Jew must celebrate the Passover seder with four cups of wine,52 it notes that the public dole (tamhui) must provide that wine for the poor. The poor must celebrate and feel the dignity of being free people—and that is the responsibility of the community.53 Yet as much as charitable institutions are a central part of the community’s life, Maimonides makes it clear that the highest form of charity is to make it possible for someone to earn a living himself.54

The large section of the Talmud that deals with civil and criminal law, Nezikin or Damages, specifies and protects workers’ compensation.55 It gives concrete form to the Torah’s prohibitions against interest56 and extends the laws prohibiting interest to include many types of financial transactions that appear to be interest, even when they are not. All this is done in order to create an economy where people are encouraged to help each other financially as an expression of their common fellowship, rather than as a way of making money. Financial instruments are created that enable people without funds to become partners with others rather than borrowers—another way of protecting human dignity and encouraging the development of a society where this dignity is manifested in everyday life.57

Acts of kindness that are required and developed in detail by the law include the obligations to visit the sick and to comfort mourners. Jews are required to redeem captives and to provide for brides, to bury the dead and to welcome people to their tables.58 The Talmud details the obligation of Jews to show deference to the old. “Standing up” and showing special signs of respect to the old are responses to the physical problems of aging.59 As a person’s own sense of dignity diminishes, the community is asked to reinforce the individual’s dignity.60

Of course Jewish law is directed at Jews and its primary concern is to encourage the expression of love to the members of the community. It deals not in sentiments but, principally, in actions. But it is important to note that many of these actions are mandatory toward all people. Thus the Talmud says: “One must provide for the needs of the gentile poor with the Jewish poor. One must visit the gentile sick as one visits the Jewish sick. One must care for the burial of a gentile, just as one must care for the burial of a Jew. [These obligations are universal] because these are the ways of peace."61

The Torah’s ways of peace manifest a practical response to the sacred creation of humanity in the divine image. They help perfect the world into the Kingdom of the Almighty.

Does not humanity need a common path that seeks the ways of peace? Does not humanity need a common vision of the sacred nature of our human existence that we can teach our children and that we can foster in our communities in order to further the ways of peace? Does not humanity need a commitment of its religious leadership, within each faith and beyond each faith, to join hands and to create bonds that will inspire and guide humanity to reach toward its sacred promise? For Jews and Christians who heard the call of God to be a blessing and a light to the world, the challenge and mission are clear.

Nothing less should be our challenge—and that is the true meaning of the mission which we all need to share.


Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate (1965), 4.
John Paul II, "Address to the Jewish Community in Mainz, West Germany," November 17,1980.
John Paul II, "Address to Jewish Leaders in Miami," September 11, 1987.
Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews: Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration, Nostra Aetate No. 4 (1974), Prologue.
Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church (1985), VI, 25.
NCCB, God’s Mercy Endures Forever (1988), 31i.
Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, ""Reflections on the Vatican Statement on the Shoah," Origins 28/2 (May 28, 1998), 31.
CRRJ, Notes (1985), VI, 25.
Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes (1965), IV, 45, citing Dei Verbum (1965), II, 15.
Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), 18.
John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (1990), 15.
Ibid., 18.
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Dialogue and Proclamation (1991), 2. Note these similar comments from Pope John Paul II, "Mission is a single but complex reality, and it develops in a variety of ways. Among these ways, some have particular importance in the present situation of the church and the world." Redemptoris Missio (1990), 41. The pope went on to cite these various ways: "Witness" [42-43], "Proclamation" [44=47], "Forming local churches" [48-49], "Ecumenical activity" [50], "Inculturation" [52-54], "Interreligious Dialogue" [55-57], "Promoting Development and Liberation from Oppression," [58-59].
Ibid., 10.
John Paul II, "Address to Representatives of Jewish Organizations," March 12, 1979.
John Paul II, Ecclesia in America (1999), 50; citing idem, "Address on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising," April 6, 1993.
CRRJ, Notes (1985), II, 11. CRRJ, Notes (1985), II, 11. At the general audience on December 6, 2000, John Paul II spoke of the partnership among all religious people: "All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of his kingdom" [Catholic News Service, December 6, 2000].
Walter Cardinal Kasper, "Dominus Iesus." Address delivered at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York, May 1, 2001.
CRRJ, "Guidelines" (1974), II.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, One Covenant, Many Religions: Israel, the Church and the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 104. "Time of the Gentiles" recalls Luke 21:24’s term for the era after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Guidelines, Prologue.
John Paul II, "Address on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising," April 6, 1993.
Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate, 4.
Gen. 17:1-2.
Gen. 17:7.
Gen. 17:8.
Ex. 19:4-6.
Is. 43:10.
Is. 45:23.
Is. 49:6.
Is. 40:4.
Rabbi David Kimhi, known as Radak (Provencal scholar of the late twelfth to early thirteenth centuries) in his comment on Isaiah 42:6.
Zech. 9:10.
Is. 2:3-4.
Jonah 3:10.
Jonah 4:9-11.
See BT (Babylonia Talmud) Baba Batra 15b.
See, for example, the extraordinary struggle of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira to make sense of this in Nehemia Polen, The Holy Fire (New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1994).
Is. 41:8.
Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:22a. Variants in the Babylonian Talmud read: "Everyone who destroys a single soul of Israel…" The inclusion of "Israel" is not polemical or exclusive. The phrase means, as the Jerusalem Talmud makes clear, "people."
BT Sanhedrin 37a.
Amos 9:7.
Gen. 18:24-25.
Amos 5:24.
Is. 58:6-8.
BT Sanhedrin 56; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, Chs. 9 and 10. According to R. David Kimhi this is a further implication of the light that the Jews will bring to the nations: that the nations will learn the seven commandments and will come to abide by them. See his commentary to Isaiah 42:6.
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (Code of Jewish Law), Laws of Repentance 3:5. Also Laws of Kings, 8:11. This is based on the Talmud, BT Sanhedrin 105a. In that chapter, Balaam is noted as a king (obviously a gentile king) who will not be rewarded with life in the world to come. His lack of righteousness is emphasized. It follows therefore that those who are righteous will have a place in that eternal abode.
Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 1:1.
To remember the four verbs of God’s deliverance in Exodus 6:6-7.
Mishnah Pesahim 10:1.
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, "Laws of Gifts to the Poor," 10:6.
BT Bava Metzia, Ch. 7.
Exodus 22:24, Leviticus 25:6, Deuteronomy 23:20 and 23:21.
BT Bava Metzia, Ch. 5.
BT Shabbat 127a.
Leviticus 19:32. The Talmud develops these idea particularly in BT Kiddushin 32b-33a.
See Harlan J. Wechsler, Old is Good.
BT Gittin 61a.
Press Release from the USCCB Office of Communications, August 16, 2002
WASHINGTON - Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore said today that a document made public August 12 represents the state of thought among the participants of a dialogue that has been going on for a number of years between the U.S. Catholic Church and the Jewish community in this country.

Cardinal Keeler, the U.S. Bishops' Moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations, said that the document, entitled Reflections on Covenant and Mission, does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA). The purpose of publicly issuing the considerations which it contains is to encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics in the U.S.

These considerations provide a basis for discussing both the similarities and the significant differences between the Christian and Jewish understandings of the call given by the one God to both peoples.

Cardinal Keeler said that, within the Catholic community, there has been a growing respect for the Jewish tradition and the lasting covenant which God made with them. Judaism is "already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #839), a response to God's grace that requires religious freedom and respect for the faith relationship between God and the human person. This same respect for the freedom of faith requires us to be open at the same time to the action of God's grace to bring any person to accept what Catholic belief understands as the fullness of the means of salvation which are found in the Church.

Participants in the ongoing consultation are delegates of the BCEIA of the USCCB and the National Council of Synagogues (NCS) which represents the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The Reflections derive from a meeting which the BCEIA-NCS Consultation held in New York last March.

We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah

Issued March 16, 1998 by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews

Pope John Paul II's Introductory Letter

To My Venerable Brother Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy:

On numerous occasions during my Pontificate I have recalled with a sense of deep sorrow the sufferings of the Jewish people during the Second World War. The crime which has become known as the Shoah remains and indelible stain on the history of the century that is coming to a close.

As we prepare for the beginning of the Third millennium of Christianity, the Church is aware that the joy of a Jubilee is above all the joy that is based on the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God and neighbor. Therefore she encourages her sons and daughters to purify their hearts, through repentance of past errors and infidelities. She calls them to place themselves humbly before the Lord and examine themselves on the responsibility which they too have for the evils of our time.

It is my fervent hope that the document: "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," which the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews has prepared under your direction, will indeed help to heal the wounds of past misunderstandings and injustices. May it enable memory to play its necessary part in the process of shaping a future in which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never again be possible. May the Lord of history guide the efforts of Catholics and Jews and all men and women of good will as they work together for a world of true respect for the life and dignity of every human being, for all have been created in the image and likeness of God.

From the Vatican, 12 March 1998.

- Joannes Paulus II

I. The Tragedy of the Shoah and the Duty of Remembrance

The twentieth century is fast coming to a close and a new Millennium of the Christian era is about to dawn. The 2000th anniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ calls all Christians, and indeed invites all men and women, to seek to discern in the passage of history the signs of divine Providence at work, as well as the ways in which the image of the Creator in man has been offended and disfigured.

This reflection concerns one of the main areas in which Catholics can seriously take to heart the summons which Pope John Paul II has addressed to them in his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente: "It is appropriate that, as the Second Millennium of Christianity draws to a close, the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel and, instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal".1

This century has witnessed an unspeakable tragedy, which can never be forgotten: the attempt by the Nazi regime to exterminate the Jewish people, with the consequent killing of millions of Jews. Women and men, old and young, children and infants, for the sole reason of their Jewish origin, were persecuted and deported. Some were killed immediately, while others were degraded, ill-treated, tortured and utterly robbed of their human dignity, and then murdered. Very few of those who entered the Camps survived, and those who did remained scarred for life. This was the Shoah. It is a major fact of the history of this century, a fact which still concerns us today.

Before this horrible genocide, which the leaders of nations and Jewish communities themselves found hard to believe at the very moment when it was mercilessly being put into effect, no one can remain indifferent, least of all the Church, by reason of her very close bonds of spiritual kinship with the Jewish people and her remembrance of the injustices of the past. The Church's relationship to the Jewish people is unlike the one she shares with any other religions.2 However, it is not only a question of recalling the past. The common future of Jews and Christians demands that we remember, for "there is no future without memory".3 History itself is memoria futuri.

In addressing this reflection to our brothers and sisters of the Catholic Church throughout the world, we ask all Christians to join us in meditating on the catastrophe which befell the Jewish people, and on the moral imperative to ensure that never again will selfishness and hatred grow to the point of sowing such suffering and death.4 Most especially, we ask our Jewish friends, "whose terrible fate has become a symbol of the aberrations of which mans is capable when he turns against God",5 to hear us with open hearts.

II. What We Must Remember

While bearing their unique witness to the Holy One of Israel and to the Torah, the Jewish people have suffered much at different times and in many places. But the Shoah was certainly the worst suffering of all. The inhumanity with which the Jews were persecuted and massacred during this century is beyond the capacity of words to convey. All this was done to them for the sole reason that they were Jews.

The very magnitude of the crime raises many questions. Historians, sociologists, political philosophers, psychologists and theologians are all trying to learn more about the reality of the Shoah and its causes. Much scholarly study still remains to be done. But such an event cannot be fully measured by the ordinary criteria of historical research alone. It calls more a "moral and religious memory" and, particularly among Christians, a very serious reflection on what gave rise to it.

The fact that the Shoah took place in Europe, that is, in countries of long-standing Christian civilization, raises the question of the relation between the nazi persecution and the attitudes down the centuries of Christians towards Jews.

III. Relations Between Jews and Christians

The history of relations between Jews and Christians is a tormented one. His Holiness Pope John Paul II has recognized this fact in his repeated appeals to Catholics to see where we stand with regard to our relations with the Jewish people.6 In effect, the balance of these relations over two thousand years has been quite negative.7

At the dawn of Christianity, after the crucifixion of Jesus, there arose disputes between the early Church and the Jewish leaders and people who, in their devotion to the Law, on occasion violently opposed the preachers of the Gospel and the first Christians. In the pagan Roman Empire, Jews were legally protected by the privileges granted by the Emperor and the authorities at first made no distinction between Jewish and Christian communities. Soon however, Christians incurred the persecution of the State. Later, when the Emperors themselves converted to Christianity, they at first continued to guarantee Jewish privileges. But Christian mobs who attacked pagan temples sometimes did the same to synagogues, not without being influenced by certain interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people as a whole. "In the Christian world - I do not say on the part of the Church as such - erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people".8 Such interpretations of the New Testament have been totally and definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council.9

Despite the Christian preaching of love for all, even for one's enemies, the prevailing mentality down the centuries penalized minorities and those who were in any way "different".

Sentiments of anti-Judaism in some Christian quarters, and the gap which existed between the Church and the Jewish people, led to a generalized discrimination, which ended at times in expulsions or attempts at forced conversions. In a large part of the "Christian" world, at the end of the 18th century, those who were not Christian did not always enjoy a fully guaranteed juridical status. Despite that fact, Jews throughout Christendom held on to their religious traditions and communal customs. They were therefore looked upon with a certain suspicion and mistrust. In times of crisis such as famine, war, pestilence or social tensions, the Jewish minority was sometimes taken as a scapegoat and became the victim of violence, looting, even massacres.

By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, Jews generally had achieved an equal standing with other citizens in most States and a certain number of them held influential positions in society. But in that same historical context, notably in the 19th century, a false and exacerbated nationalism took hold. In a climate of eventful social change, Jews were often accused of exercising an influence disproportionate to their numbers. Thus there began to spread in varying degrees throughout most of Europe an anti-Judaism that was essentially more sociological and political than religious.

At the same time, theories began to appear which denied the unity of the human race, affirming an original diversity of races. In the 20th century, National Socialism in Germany used these ideas as a pseudo-scientific basis for a distinction between so called Nordic-Aryan races and supposedly inferior races. Furthermore, an extremist form of nationalism was heightened in Germany by the defeat of 1918 and the demanding conditions imposed by the victors, with the consequence that many saw in National Socialism a solution to their country's problems and cooperated politically with this movement.

The Church in Germany replied by condemning racism. The condemnation first appeared in the preaching of some the clergy, in the public teaching of the Catholic Bishops, and in the writings of lay Catholic journalists. Already in February and March 1931, Cardinal Bertram of Breslau, Cardinal Faulhaber and the Bishops of Bavaria, the Bishops of the Province of Cologne and those of the Province of Freiburg published pastoral letters condemning National Socialism, with its idolatry of race and of the State.10 The well-known Advent sermons of Cardinal Faulhaber in 1933, the very year in which National Socialism came to power, at which not just Catholics but also Protestants and Jews were present, clearly expressed rejection of the Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda.11 In the wake of the Kristallnacht, Bernard Lichtenberg, Provost of Berlin Cathedral, offered public prayers for the Jews. He was later to die at Dachau and has been declared Blessed.

Pope Pius XI too condemned Nazi racism in a solemn way in his Encyclical Letter Mit brennender Sorge,12 which was read in German churches on Passion Sunday 1937, a step which resulted in attacks and sanctions against members of the clergy. Addressing a group of Belgian pilgrims on 6 September 1938, Pius XI asserted: "Anti-Semitism is unacceptable. Spiritually, we are all Semites".13 Pius XII, in his very first Encyclical, Summi Pontificatus,14 of 20 October 1939, warned against theories which denied the unity of the human race and against the deification of the State, all of which he saw as leading to a real "hour of darkness".15

IV. Nazi anti-Semitism and the Shoah

Thus we cannot ignore the difference which exists between anti-Semitism based on theories contrary to the constant teaching of the Church on the unity of the human race and on the equal dignity of all races and peoples, and the long-standing sentiments of mistrust and hostility that we call anti-Judaism, of which unfortunately, Christians also have been guilty.

The National Socialist ideology went even further, in the sense it refused to acknowledge any transcendent reality as the source of life and the criterion of moral good. Consequently, a human group, and the State with which it was identified, arrogated to itself an absolute status and determined to remove the very existence of the Jewish people, a people called to witness to the one God and the Law of the Covenant. At the level of theological reflection we cannot ignore the fact that not a few in the Nazi party not only showed aversion to the idea of divine Providence at work in human affairs, but gave proof of a definite hatred directed at God himself. Logically, such an attitude also led to a rejection of Christianity, and a desire to see the Church destroyed or at least subjected to the interests of the Nazi state.

It was this extreme ideology which became the basis of the measures taken, first to drive the Jews from their homes and then to exterminate them. The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity and, in pursuing its aims, it did not hesitate to oppose the Church and persecute her members also.

But it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts. Did anti-Jewish sentiment among Christians make them less sensitive, or even indifferent, to the persecution launched against the Jews by National Socialism when it reached power?

Any response to this question must take into account that we are dealing with the history of people's attitudes and ways of thinking, subject to multiple influences. Moreover, many people were altogether unaware of the ''final solution" that was being put into effect against a whole people; others were afraid for themselves and those near to them; some took advantage of the situation; and still others were moved by envy. A response would need to be given case by case. To do this, however, it is necessary to know what precisely motivated people in a particular situation.

At first the leaders of the Third Reich sought to expel the Jews. Unfortunately, the governments of some Western countries of Christian tradition, including some in North and South America, were more than hesitant to open their borders to the persecuted Jews. Although they could not foresee how far the Nazi hierarchs would go in their criminal intentions, the leaders of those nations were aware of the hardships and dangers to which Jews living in the territories of the Third Reich were exposed. The closing of borders to Jewish emigration in those circumstances, whether due to any anti-Jewish hostility or suspicion, political cowardice or shortsightedness, or national selfishness, lays a heavy burden of conscience on the authorities in question.

In the lands where the Nazis undertook mass deportations, the brutality which surrounded these forced movements of helpless people should have led to suspect the worst. Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular to the persecuted Jews?

Many did, but others did not. Those who did help to save Jewish lives as much as was in their power, even to the point of placing their own lives in danger, must not be forgotten. During and after the war, Jewish communities and Jewish leaders expressed their thanks for all that had been done for them, including what Pope Pius XII did personally or through his representatives to save hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives.16 Many Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laity have been honored for this reason by the State of Israel.

Nevertheless, As Pope John Paul II has recognized, alongside such courageous men and women, the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ's followers. We cannot know how many Christians in countries occupied or ruled by the Nazi powers or their allies were horrified at the disappearance of their Jewish neighbors and yet were not strong enough to raise their voices in protest. For Christians, this heavy burden of conscience of their brothers and sisters during the Second World War must be a call to penitence.17

We deeply regret the errors and failures of those sons and daughters of the Church. We make our own what is said in the Second Vatican Council's Declaration Nostra Aetate, which unequivocally affirms: ''The Church ... mindful of her common patrimony with the Jews, and motivated by the Gospel's spiritual love and by no political considerations, deplores the hatred, persecutions and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and form any source."18

We recall and abide by what Pope John Paul II, addressing the leaders of the Jewish community in Strasbourg in 1988, stated: ''I repeat again with you the strongest condemnation of anti-Semitism and racism, which are opposed to the principles of Christianity."19 The Catholic Church therefore repudiates every persecution against a people or human group anywhere, at any time. She absolutely condemns all forms of genocide, as well as the racist ideologies that give rise to them. Looking back over this century, we are deeply saddened by the violence that has enveloped whole groups of peoples and nations. We recall in particular the massacre of the Armenians, the countless victims in Ukraine in the 1930's, the genocide of the Gypsies, which was also the result of racist ideas, and similar tragedies which have occurred in America, Africa and the Balkans. Nor do we forget the millions of victims of totalitarian ideology in the Soviet Union, in China, Cambodia and elsewhere. Nor can we forget the drama of the Middle East, the elements of which are well known. Even as we make this reflection, ''many human beings are still their brothers' victims."20

V. Looking together to a common future

Looking to the future of relations between Christians and Jews, in the first place we appeal to our Catholic brothers and sisters to renew the awareness of the Hebrew roots of their faith. We ask them to keep in kind that Jesus was a descendant of David; that the Virgin Mary and the Apostles belonged to the Jewish people; that the Church draws sustenance from the root of that good olive tree on to which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles (Cf. Romans 11:17-24); that the Jews are our dearly beloved brothers, indeed in a certain sense they are ''our elder brothers."21

At the end of this Millennium the Catholic Church desires to express her deep sorrow for the failures of her sons and daughters in every age. This is an act of repentance (teshuva), since, as members of the Church, we are linked to the sins as well as the merits of all her children. The Church approaches with deep respect and great compassion the experience of extermination, the Shoah , suffered by the Jewish people during World War II. It is not a matter of mere words, but indeed of binding commitment. ''We would risk causing the victims of the most atrocious deaths to die again if we do not have an ardent desire for justice, if we do not commit ourselves to ensure that evil does not prevail over good as it did for millions of children of the Jewish people ... Humanity cannot permit all that to happen again."22

We pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people has suffered in our century will lead to a new relationship with the Jewish people. We wish to turn awareness of past sins into a firm resolve to build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Judaism among Christians or anti-Christian sentiment among Jews, but rather a shared mutual respect, as befits those who adore the one Creator and Lord and have a common father in faith, Abraham.

Finally, we invite all men and women of good will to reflect deeply on the significance of the Shoah . The victims from their graves, and the survivors through the vivid testimony of what they have suffered, have become a loud voice calling the attention of all of humanity. To remember this terrible experience is to become fully conscious of the salutary waning it entails: the spoiled seeds of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism must never again be allowed to take root in any human heart.

March 16, 1998

Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy President

The most Reverend Pierre Duprey Vice-President

The Reverend Remi Hoeckman, O.P. Secretary


1. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 10 November 1994, 33: AAS 87 (1995), 25.
2. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Speech at the Synagogue of Rome, 13 April 1986, 4: AAS 78 (1986), 1120.
3. Pope John Paul II, Angelus Prayer, 11 June 1995: Insegnamenti 18/1, 1995, 1712.
4. Pope John Paul II, Address to Jewish Leaders in Budapest, 18 August 1991, 4: Insegnamenti 14/2, 1991, 349.
5. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 1 May 1991, 17: AAS 83 (1991), 814-815.
6. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Address to Delegates of Episcopal Conferences for Catholic-Jewish Relations, 6 March 1982: Insegnamenti 5/1, 1982, 743-747.
7. Cf. Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, 24 June 1985, VI, 1: Ench. Vat. 9, 1656.
8. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Speech to Symposium on the Roots of Anti-Judaism, 31 October 1997, 1: L'Osservatore Romano, 1 November 1997, p. 6.
9. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Nostra Aetate, 4.
10. Cf. B. Statiewski, ed. Akten Deutscher Bischöfe Über die Lage der Kirche, 1933-1945, vol. I, 1933-1934 (Mainz 1968), Appendix.
11. Cf. L. Volk, Der Bayerische Episkopat und der Nationalsoziaismus 1930-1934 (Mainz 1966), pp. 170-174.
12. The Encyclical is dated 14 March 1937: AAS 29 (1937), 145-167.
13. La Documentation Catholique, 29 (1938), col. 1460.
14. AAS 31 (1939), 413-453.
15. Ibid., 449.
16. The wisdom of Pope Pius XII's diplomacy was publicly acknowledged on a number of occasions by representatives of Jewish Organizations and personalities. For example, on 7 September 1945, Dr. Joseph Nathan, who represented the Italian Hebrew Communities, stated: "Above all, we acknowledge the Supreme Pontiff and the religious men and women who, executing the directives of the Holy Father, recognized the persecuted as their brothers and, with effort and abnegation, hastened to help us, disregarding the terrible dangers to which they were exposed" (L'Osservatore Romano, 8 September, 1945, p. 2). On 21 September of that same year, Pius XII received in audience Dr. A Leo Kubowitzki, Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress who came to present "to the Holy Father, in the name of the Union of Israelitic Communities, warmest thanks for the efforts of the Catholic Church on behalf of Jews throughout Europe during the War" (L'Osservatore Romano, 23 September 1945, p. 1). On Thursday, 29 November 1945, the Pope met about 80 representatives of Jewish refugees from various concentration camps in Germany, who expressed "their great honour at being able to thank the Holy Father personally for his generosity towards those persecuted during the Nazi-Fascist period" (L'Osservatore Romano, 30 November 1945, p. 1). In 1958, at the death of Pope Pius XII, Golda Meir sent an eloquent message: "We share in the grief of humanity. When fearful martyrdom came to our people, the voice of the Pope was raised for its victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out about great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace."
17. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Address to the New Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Holy See, 8 November 1990, 2: AAS 83 (1991), 587-588.
18. Loc. cit., no. 4.
19. Address to Jewish Leaders, Strasbourg, 9 October 1988, no. 8: Insegnamenti 11/3, 1988, 1134.
20. Pope John Paul II, Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 15 January 1994, 9: AAS 86 (1994), 816.
21. Pope John Paul II, Speech at the Synagogue of Rome, 13 April 1986, 4: AAS 78 (1986), 1120.
22. Pope John Paul II, Address on the Occasion of a Commemoration of the Shoah, 7 April 1994, 3: Insegnamenti 17/1, 1994, 897 and 893.