Published in The Jerusalem Post on March 19, 2000
This is the speech I’d like to hear Pope John Paul II give when he visits Israel, and especially Yad Vashem, later this week:
“The Heavenly Father is today peering down at us from his perch above, at this historic moment in the Holy Year, in the Holy Land, as we kneel in penitence and renewed brotherhood at this most sorrowful of places, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. The extraordinary pain and the shame I feel today — as a Pole, as a Christian and as the bearer in Rome of Christ’s cross — are unimaginable, beyond words.
“The Jubilee Year demands a common ethic commitment to construct ways of peace among Jews, Christians and Moslems. A necessary implication of this rediscovered fraternity is recognition by the Church of Christ of the lamentable historical fact that many Christians – including the most senior officials of Christ’s Church – for centuries expressed extreme prejudice and hostility against Jews.
“The act of *teshuva*, penance, concerns us today. It is both foolish and impossible to deny the weight of past silences, complicities, and persecutions. As Christians we must admit that the arrogance of power and a regrettable moral blindness led to the fact that sons and daughters of the Church as a whole – and this woefully includes some bishops, cardinals and popes – offered insufficient resistance to Nazi efforts of extermination aimed at the Jewish People.
“Maimonides writes that repentance involves both recognition of the sin and confession, coupled with an explicit request for forgiveness addressed to the wronged party. We must therefore acknowledge clearly that the Concordat helped make it possible for Hitler to achieve total power, and that silence by the highest officials of the Holy See during the Holocaust contributed to the Nazi ability to persist in the annihilation. Furthermore, we must acknowledge and beg forgiveness for the direct connection that unequivocally exists between 2000 years of anti-Semitism inspired by Christians and the poisoned climate which made the Holocaust possible.
“I wish to repeat here in the strongest possible way that hatred against Jews and Judaism are in complete contradiction to the Christian vision of human dignity. More than that, anti-Semitism is a sin against God. For you are our Elder Brothers in faith and you remain a Chosen People. We Christians must rid ourselves of the idea that Jews are a people punished, preserved as a living argument for Christian apologetic.
“Rather, the permanence of Israel is part of God’s design to enrich the world, to make it a better place for His children. Sustained by its faith in the Lord, even in its millenary dispersion, the Jewish People has preserved its identity, its rite, its tradition, and indeed has made an essential contribution to the spiritual and cultural life of the world.
“The great spiritual patrimony linking the People of the Covenant with the People of the New Covenant demands reconciliation between us, and imposes on us together a heavy burden of responsibility for bringing Divine blessing to the world. Together, our faith communities have an awesome role to play in teaching responsibility, morality and ethics in this technologically-cold, agnostic, individualistic, selfish, and violent world. Our common forefather Abraham, and Jesus, himself a committed Jew, would then be proud of us.
“As I travel this ancient Holy Land and this re-born State of Israel, I am astonished and grateful for what you have achieved. The State that you have built, the society that you have fashioned, the landscapes that you have quickened into life, the kinsmen that you have gathered in, the passions that have been roused and the inexpressible hopes that have been kindled because of them.
“Indeed, the establishment, survival and advancement of the State of Israel is more than a political or secular event in the consciousness of believers. Israel stands as vindication of the spirit; as validation of the tenaciousness of faith; as Providential consolation. Israel’s saga adds a new dimension to our experience as Christians and the exploration of it will take many years.
“I acknowledge the Jewish People’s historical, religious and national roots in this Holy City of Jerusalem, while concomitantly upholding the political claims and rights of others. While this city belongs to believers of all three great faiths, I must gratefully acknowledge that under your administration for the past thirty years this city has flourished and has been kept open to all believers of all faiths.
“Let us pray here together for the repentance and forgiveness that is required, for the security for Israel that she so richly deserves, for the justice that is the right of your neighbors, for the grace of a real and deep brotherhood between our faith communities. May those who love you be blessed. May peace dwell in your walls, prosperity in your palaces. I pray for peace for you. I desire happiness for you. Praised be His name! Amen.”