Speak the Truth: New Hope for Jewish-Catholic Dialogue

By Paul Zilonka, C.P.

As the millennial celebrations of the year 2000 slip into the past, we might expect to retire some of the adjectives which journalists favored during those exciting days of new possibilities. Newscasters made daily announcements of "bold" or "unexpected" Pope at Wallsteps being taken to make the next thousand years different from the last millennium. Personally and corporately, people were daring to dream new dreams of peace and unity for all of us who share this tiny planet.

During the Catholic celebration of the Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II fostered reconciliation between the Catholic Church and Judaism in many dramatic ways. He formally asked pardon of contemporary Jews for the ways in which the Catholic Church in past centuries had preached against Jews and often supported customs which restricted Jewish people in various ways. The Holocaust continues to be a point of controversy in Jewish-Catholic dialogue. Although many Catholics courageously helped their Jewish neighbors survive persecution, there is no doubt that centuries of anti-Jewish rhetoric contributed to the difficulties of European Jews under Nazi control.

The Pope in Jerusalem

Pope John Paul II journeyed to Jerusalem like so many other pilgrims before him, "to walk in the footsteps of Jesus." But he was no ordinary Christian pilgrim, since everything he does receives scrutiny from all sides -- before, during and afterward. Media attention guaranteed international coverage for the Pope's poignant visit to the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. Robed in white, he stood in the stillness of that tomb-like space where darkness is only dispersed by the glow of tiny lights representing the millions slain.

Perhaps most striking of all was the historic photo of the Roman Pontiff kissing the "Western Wall" where Jewish pilgrims fervently pray each day. That photo capturing the Pope's reverent gesture of inserting his written prayer between the crevices of that massive wall forcefully portrays both the fragility of our human efforts and the persistence needed to address the monumental historic divisions between Judaism and Christianity. Such emotionally-charged gestures have not gone unnoticed by members of the Jewish faith around the world.

Prayer of the Holy Father
at the Western Wall

March 26, 2000

God of our fathers,
you chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring your Name to the Nations:
we are deeply saddened
by the behaviour of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of yours to suffer,
and asking your forgiveness
we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.


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Editor's Note

Sign of the Passion

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