Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Pope Who Believed in Good Relations With Jews

Haaretz gives a history of Pope John Paul's acts of reconciliation between Catholics and Jews. Link.
Forty years ago, during the papacy of Pope John XXIII, the Catholic Church determined that the attempt to present the Jewish people as rejected by God was false, and cleared the Jews of responsibility for the death of Jesus.
But it was Pope John Paul II who was the true hero of Christian-Jewish reconciliation. The late pontiff called for "a new and profound understanding between the Church and Judaism everywhere, in every country, for the benefit of all." He stated unequivocally that the idea that the Church has replaced the Jewish people in a covenant with God was wrong, and even questioned the attempt to proselytize among Jews.

The two most significant events in terms of Christian-Jewish reconciliation were his visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986 and his visit to Israel in 2000. The scene of John Paul embracing the chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, reached millions of believers who did not choose to or who could not read his writings. He described the visit to the synagogue as the most important event of that year, one that would be remembered for "hundreds of thousands of years" and gave "thanks and praise to Providence" for the occasion.

For much of its history, the leaders of the Catholic Church believed that they had a monopoly on divine truth, and that no other religion was legitimate. This led to centuries of warfare in Europe and to horrific treatment of the native populations in the Americas by the Spanish and the Portuguese.

The Catholic Church was by no means alone in holding such a belief. Several Protestant denominations believed in their own infallible truth, and many sects of Islam today use such beliefs to justify mass murder. It is this history that makes the words and actions of this Pope so significant in improving the degree of peace between peoples throughout the world. It seems fairly sure that these actions are irreversible by future Church leaders, and the Catholic Church will remain a "good neighbor" to its fellow religions.


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