I have had the privilege of participating in several conferences organized by the Sant'Egidio community, and there is no question of their significant contribution to awareness and understanding among religions - through productive dialogue and individual face-to-face meetings between leaders of the various religions, and especially among Jewish and Christian leaders.
The late Pope John Paul II described it, "Christianity's relationship with Judaism is unique and unlike the relationship that Christianity has to any other religion".
We may say that the Jewish-Christian dialogue is not only essential for overcoming bigotry and prejudice, it is imperative to work together for those values we share. It is in effect an expression of our awareness of the Divine Presence in the world.
This is neither the time nor the place to discuss theological texts and the way in which the Church related to the Jewish people throughout history. Cardinal Casper has discussed this subject at great length on a number of occasions, for example in his article about "Antisemitism which is a disease that requires healing".
It was published in the Vatican's newspaper.
Pope Benedictus XIV has expressed similar sentiments on this subject. Particularly interesting and fascinating is his document, "We Remember : A Reflection on the Shoah" of March 16, 1998.
Clearly, the terrible Holocaust of the Jews of Europe, during the Second World War, their destruction. The terrible moral and human abyss that Germany and other nations plunged into, was deeply shocking to all people of conscience, and caused influential religious leaders in the Christian world, to call upon the Holy See, to reexamine its attitude towards Judaism and the Jews, to revise and reorganize its theological approach to them.
This ecumenical process began during the pontificate of Pope John XXIII, who charged Cardinal Augustin Bea with the task of coordinating the subject, and indeed the Second Vatican Council passed the Nostra Aetate on October 28, 1965. The transformation in Catholic teaching towards Jews and Judaism has been dramatic. Already in Nostra Aetate there is categorical repudiation of Anti-Semitism, and the late John Paul II's description of it as a "Sin against God and man", dramatized its significance. Similarly Pope John Paul II's description of the Jewish People as the "Dearly beloved elder brother of the Church, of the original Covenant, never broken and never to be broken" – highlighted the change in Catholic theology, which had led to the development of genuine dialogue with the Jewish people.
The process of - Asking for a forgiveness from the Jewish people- was further powerfully reflected in the Papal pilgrimage, by Pope John Paul II to Israel in March 2000. In his speech at Yad Vashem and in the note he placed among the stones of the Western Wall, which moved so many, he wrote:
"God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
To bring your name to the nations.
We are deeply saddened by the behavior 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".
Abraham, the father of modern human civilization, was a man of charity, faith, vision and action, whose tent was always open in all four directions to feed the hungry and needy, regardless of their religion or views.
This is apparently the reason that the Almighty decided to choose Abraham to lead forth all of humanity. He was a man that knew how to enter into dialogue with other people, who understood them and drew them closer to God.
The late Pope John Paul II declared "As the children of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. In order to be so, we must first be a blessing to one another."
The most dramatic development in recent years, has been the establishment of a bilateral commission for dialogue between the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See, which was the direct outcome of the visit of Pope John Paul II -to the Holy land. This bilateral commission is a crowning achievement of the dialogue, since the watershed of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, and the promulgation of Nostra Aetate.
The commission involving some of the most important leaders of the religious establishment in Israel, and of the Catholic Church. Its success bodes well for our future.
How symbolic it is that after the initial meeting held in Jerusalem, the second historic meeting of the commission was held in Villa Cavalletti, Grottaferrata – Rome. The site used by Zionist emissaries from Israel, when they came to meet with Holocaust survivors, and it was from there- that the survivors made their way to the Holy Land. The meetings were held in a very pleasant atmosphere and with a great deal of openness. Each session began with the reading of a chapter from the Bible. The discussions focused on varied subjects of shared interest on the world and religious agenda, requiring the attention of world religious leaders.
At the beginning of the discussions, we acknowledged that the basis for our ongoing dialogue must be truthfulness and honesty, respecting our different religious identities. Dialogue is a value in itself and excludes any intention of converting.
We are willing to cooperate in fostering
the values we all share, of justice, charity, compassion and peace.
We should be aware of the great importance of dialogue, because unfortunately, the previous century taught us how planned extermination and genocide can kill millions, while the indifference of the world and its leaders, which look on in silence, made it possible.
We saw during the terrible time of the Holocaust to what depths the so-called enlightened world sank, when the extermination of the entire Jewish people, men women and children, was planned with cruel, cold and meticulous calculation.
We deeply appreciate and esteem the community of Sant’Egidio for the important task they had taken upon themselves, to commemorate the Holocaust , and the visits by its members to Yad Vashem when they visit Israel.
Thank you also for your important initiative to hold this unique dialogue here in the Jewish Museum in Ferrara, part of which is devoted to the memory of the terrible Holocaust
The Holocaust must never be forgotten !!! All of humanity must remember it forever.
In this context, I will now present one of the most important resolutions by our bilateral commission with a major historic and moral importance.
The sanctity of human life
"As religious leaders of faith communities, we have an extraordinary responsibility for the education of our communities and particularly the younger generation, to respect the holiness of human life. We should not permit any killing in the name of God who commands, “You shall not kill”. Fanaticism and violence are an abuse of religion and they contradict faith in God, the creator of man, who cares for humankind and created it. No religious leader can condone terrorism anywhere in the world. We should all unite our energies towards the construction of a better world for life, brotherhood, justice, peace and love among all".
The Jews had suffered throughout history persecution, pogroms and troubles - almost everywhere they went. As a result, many stereotypes regarding the Christian faith were formed among the Jewish people.
In light of the dramatic changes in the Church’s approach towards Judaism and Jews, Jewish educators, more than ever before, are confronted with a new reality and new challenges. We live in times of tremendous openness; information is infinitely accessible with the world wide web; equality is more advanced than ever before; schools conduct joint studies, and many restrictive frameworks have been abolished. But above all- as this conference highlights, we live in a new reality in terms of Jewish-Christian relations and it is the duty of teachers to familiarize their students with the dramatic changes that have taken place in this regard.
Jewish educators should ask themselves what tools and values, what spiritual capacities they are able to instill in their students -in order to prepare them for encounters with those of other religions, to teach them how to hold a dialogue with others- while embracing and maintaining their Jewish identity.
We must understand that we live in a global village, and that our relations with the Catholic Church – along with a billion-and-a-quarter of its believers – are extremely important to both sides. We welcome the positive messages and newfound attitude of the Church toward Judaism and Jews. Israel’s sensitive and complex international situation - on the one hand, and the intensification of Anti-Semitism around the world on the other, obligate us to strengthen our bonds of friendship with the Church, while preserving our Jewish identity and legacy.
In this context on August 2017, an historic document was presented to Pope Francis by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Conference of European Rabbis and the Rabbinical Council of America, entitled "Between Jerusalem and Rome: the shared universal and the respected particular reflections on 50 years of Nostra Aetate".
So we see that those who favor dialogue and peace should respond positively to any idea, opinion or emotion without arrogance and negating the other. They should see the good and positive in every person, religion, nation and ethnic group.
The dialogue among believers is viewed by God as a manifestation of devotion to Him.
Naturally, our world is still far from redeemed and the challenges for people of Faith are great. Nevertheless, I believe that the important work and vision of the Sant'Egidio community and our bilateral commission of the Chief Rabbinate and the Holy See, serve as both - a wonderful testimony to the remarkable transformation in Christian-Jewish relations - and of great hope for the future.