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Furthering Jewish-Christian Dialogue

by Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran


Presented by Archbishop Tauran at the meeting with American Jewish Leaders in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 1999.

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The Catholic Answer



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Our Sunday Visitor, Publishing, September/October 1999

Many times in speaking about Jewish-Christian dialogue, there is a transposition between the question of relations between the two religions and the question of the relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel.

December 1990 marked the 25th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions), the document of the Second Vatican Council that became the point of departure for a new and prominent phase in the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. In fact, the Council emphasized that "while searching into the mystery of the mystery of the Church, it recalls the spiritual bond linking the people of the new Covenant with Abraham's stock" (no. 4). With this affirmation, the Council wished to strengthen their common origin.

The document therefore went on to show that the way to proceed together was that of fraternal dialogue and fruitful collaboration. Consequently, in 1974 the Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism was established. Over the years, this commission has sponsored regular and numerous meetings of the Catholic-Jewish International Committee, including those of the last decade of this century. There was the one in Prague in September 1990, then Baltimore in May 1992, Jerusalem in May 1994 and last year in the Vatican.

Dialogue between the two, if it is to be truly fruitful and constructive, must be based on two principles: (I) reciprocal understanding of each other's historical and spiritual patrimony; and (2) mutual respect for each other's differences and diversities. Only in this way can solid relations, based not on opposition but on understanding and respect, be truly established. This type of relation will enable the two to accept each other and to accept the convictions of their respective faiths so that each, despite differences, may carry out in society the mission given to them by God.

In this context, education, important to both of us, has a particular significance. The image that one presents about the other must be devoid of all kinds of stereotypes and prejudices and at the same time be immersed in a true sense of respect for the identity of the other. In this way, our respective flocks will be prepared to meet each other in a spirit of friendship.

This type of relationship is not possible if it is not first preceded by a deep and sincere change of heart, a real spiritual conversion which will affect the way we think and approach each other. We will then be able constantly to reaffirm our common religious values and to labor for a personal religious commitment in the love of God and in the love of all people. This golden rule is common to us both. The Holy See has always tried to make it understood that if God is one, we should all feel like brothers and sisters. And if we are convinced that we are brothers and sisters then we will be led to kindness, forgiveness and collaboration, helping each other whenever necessary.

Another important element upon which dialogue must be based is religious studies, which is very much appreciated by both Jews and Christians. Honoring the two traditions, theological dialogue based on sincere esteem can contribute to the mutual understanding of our respective patrimonies of faith, and it can help us to appreciate even more the links that bind us in our understanding of salvation.

Sincere and fraternal dialogue will permit us to show to the world the beauty and profound truths of our faith in the one God Who is known and loved precisely through those who believe in Him. In fact, adoring the one and true God, we discover our common spiritual roots, which lead to an understanding of our brotherhood with all peoples: This is the bond that unites most firmly Christians and Jews.

Today, we have arrived at the point in which the two communities must realize that they are responsible before God, also in their dialogue with each other. The meeting in Jerusalem accepted that point and adopted Pope John Paul II's message to Poland on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Ghetto of Warsaw: "As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing for the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another."

On the threshold of the new millennium, we are able to affirm that we have before us new and enormous possibilities to promote the advancement of dialogue between the two faiths. This dialogue, it seems, must lead us to articulate a program of action. That will be possible if it is a dialogue between believers who have as their only ambition the genuine desire to overcome the difficulties of the past and to build bridges of trust and fraternal love.

"If committed and believing Christians and Jews can discover the image of God in each other, if they can uncover and affirm each other's proper role in the overall divine strategy of redemption, surely the inspiration of their example would bring the kingdom of God that much closer for everyone," according to Rabbi lrving Greenberg.

Relations Between The Holy See And The State Of Israel

There is a difference between the recognition of the existence of a country and having diplomatic relations with it. I make this point, because when the Holy See and the State of Israel established diplomatic relations on June 15, 1994, many interpreted this event as a recognition of Israel on the part of the Holy See or, as many said, "The Holy See finally recognizes Israel."

However, that interpretation was incorrect, because the Holy See has never questioned the existence of the State of Israel, since the proclamation of its independence. There are several proofs.

The Israeli delegation was included among the official delegations invited to the funeral of Pope Pius XII, the opening and closing of the Second Vatican Council, the funeral of Pope John XXIII and the inauguration of the pastoral ministry of Pope John Paul II.

We remember the meeting of Pope Paul VI with the president of Israel at Meghiddo in Samaria during his historic visit to the Holy Land in January 1964.

Official visits of members of the Israeli governments have been numerous: Minister of Foreign Affairs Abba Eban in 1969, Prime Minister Golda Meir in 1973, Minister of Tourism Moshe Kol in 1975, Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Dayan 1978, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yitzhak Shamir 1982 and Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1985.

Pope John Paul has referred to the State of Israel on several occasions: his homily at Otranto (Oct. 5, 1980), the apostolic letter Redemptoris Anno (April 20, 1984), his address to leaders of the Jewish community in Miami (Sept. II, 1987), his discourse to the diplomatic corps (Jan. 12, 1991), the general audience (Jan. 23, 1991).

It is obvious then that even before diplomatic relations were established between the two, there was a recognition of the State of Israel on the part of the Holy See. In any case, as everyone knows, it is customary in international praxis — and this occurs in the majority of cases— that the recognition of a country is implicit and does not require, according to international law, solemn explicit declarations.

Moreover, this seeming anomaly between recognizing a country and not having diplomatic relations with it existed in many other situations. Among the more glaring examples: South Africa, the Kingdom of Jordan, Mexico, the Soviet Union, Poland, other countries of Central Europe. This was even the case for more than a century with the United States.

In 1994, however, as I said above, the Holy See and Israel did establish diplomatic relations. The various events leading up to this important and indeed historic moment contributed greatly to transforming the general climate of our relationship and the manner of our approach toward one another (even if main questions were not resolved and are still under discussion).

In fact, what was important — and this has been the case — was not just establishing diplomatic relations and maintaining them, but constructing mutual and sincere trust as a result of our repeated contacts and discussions. At first personal and then institutional, these contacts created a spirit of respect and understanding which is of course the determining factor in reaching desired results.

The climate of dialogue that has been established has led us to the possibility to reflect together and to agree upon questions of a bilateral nature, particularly to give to Catholic institutions in Israel a clear and stable juridical status. To that end, a Bilateral Permanent Working Commission was established on June 29, 1992. The work of this commission led to the signing of the Fundamental Agreement of December 30, 1993, and the Legal Personality Agreement of November 10,1997.

It seems that mutual understanding and dialogue, which the Holy See so often hoped for and encouraged, has also contributed to the peace process between Israel and its Arab counterpart (Madrid, Washington, Oslo, Wye Plantation).

Of course, the Holy See and the State of Israel are aware that much is still to be done on the bilateral level and in the peace process. However, the process which began in Madrid cannot stop, and the Holy See, using all the means of its moral authority, is determined to support and encourage it to move forward, so that indeed it will reach its objective of peace, security and stability for all.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, after his meeting with the Holy Father on March 17, 1994, stated that the Holy See should be and, for his part, is invited to contribute in a formal way to the peace process. "It can and it must do so," said Rabin, "with its vesture of a moral nature, sustaining and strengthening the climate of dialogue, especially in moments of crisis." It is interesting to note that that very same day I was in Tunis, and Yassir Arafat expressed the same conviction about the Holy See's involvement in the peace process. The shared conviction of these two personalities about the role of the Holy See in that process is significant, and, certainly, we hope, will assist in consolidating the hope for lasting peace in the Middle East.

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