After this wonderful celebration and the words of appreciation that were addressed to me, it is my first obligation to express my deep and profound gratitude to the Angelo Roncalli – International Committee. I am very moved by what you said and by the award you bestowed on me. Yes. It is true, I am committed to the Jewish Christian relations and their improvement, but I stand on the shoulders of many others, of those who started the process of reconciliation long before me, and of those who work with me.
Thus I accept this award also in representation of all the others who work in the Catholic Church for this purpose, which, over the last 40 years has become one of the most important tasks of all Christian Churches and their commitment to peace in the world. Therefore I would like to express my highest appreciation and esteem for the work that your Committee is doing in order to overcome old prejudices, and to foster mutual understanding, reconciliation and co-operation between this two monotheistic abrahamic religions.
Indeed, both Judaism and Christianity have in Abraham their common root and their common father in faith. They share a common heritage in what we Christians call the Old Testament, in their monotheistic faith, the Ten Commandments, their messianic hope. The Jews are, as Pope John Paul II put it, our elder brothers in the faith of Abraham. The covenant that God established with his people was never broken; the Jews remain the beloved people of God. We Christians are grafted on this root, which bears and nourishes us. Jews and Christians belong together, since the promise was given to our common father Abraham; because in him all nations will be blessed, Jews and Christians together have a common responsibility for schalom, for peace in the world.
It is one of the deepest and most tremendous dramas in the whole history of mankind that Jews and Christians fell apart, became estranged, developed mutual prejudices so that a language of contempt emerged and they often became enemies. Such anti-Judaism cuts off the Church from its own roots, which nourished her, thus weakening her inner life. Besides, anti-Judaism paved the way to anti-Semitism, which was a stupid and primitive modern not a Christian but a pagan race theory and which finally led to the abominable atrocities of the Holocaust. The Holocaust, or as Jews prefer: the Shoah, not only destroyed individual lives of so many people but still today has also repercussions on the political situation and conflicts in the Middle East, and so on one of the most urgent challenges of today, the relations between Christians and Muslims.
I have mentioned very briefly our present situation only to point out the importance and even the urgency of our Christian-Jewish relations for the Churches themselves and for the peace in the world as well. I am firmly convinced that we can heal one of the worst and deepest wounds of our time only if we go back to its deepest roots and to the very core of the problem: the reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity, which should more and more become the nucleus of a ”trialogue” between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Reconciliation between Jews and Christians does not mean unification. The definitive solution for the relations between Jews and Christians will only be an eschatological one. Within history Jews and Christians are and will remain different. However, this insight cannot be a pretext for inactivity or resignation. On the contrary, Biblical hope is to be understood as an impulse for active hope. It does not hold us back but encourages us to overcome all forms of old and new anti-Semitism, which unfortunately crop up again. It impels us to recognise our common heritage and to take over our common responsibility. Christians and Jews, even if different, can and must be partners respecting each other’s identity and even so collaborating for the good of all mankind. Together they can and should bear practical witness to their common values: dignity of the human person, sanctity of life, social justice, family values, and –last but not least: hope. All of these are values and attitudes often missing in our modern world but absolutely essential for our survival and the survival of our Judeo-Christian Western culture.
In this context it is not possible to develop a whole theological theory and a whole practical program of Jewish Christian relations. More then programs, which could remain paper and abstract theory, we need living examples, concrete persons witnessing what they feel and think. Your Committee has such a patron, highly esteemed and praised by many Catholics and non-Catholics, by Christians and non-Christians alike: Angelo Roncalli, better known as Pope John XXIII.
Angelo Roncalli was not a man of great theories. He was a Christian, a true Christian who became Pope. He was a saint. He always said and did – mostly in a very simple, but not naïve way – what a Christian should say and do according to the Gospel and inspired by the Spirit. He saved the lives of many Jews, and called Jews his brothers. He cancelled ambiguous and offensive formulations in the liturgy of Good Friday and – on suggestions made to him by Jules Isaak – he decided to initiate what later became the Council’s famous Declaration ”Nostra aetate”, of which we will celebrate the 40th anniversary next year.
”Nostra aetate” is the watershed in the relations between Jews and Christians, a revolution in the original and best sense of the word, a new begin after the dark ages of lack of mutual understanding. We are still at the beginning of this new begin. Some fundamental theological problems remain still unsolved. From a practical point of view, much has been done but much more can and must still be done. As usual in life, setbacks occur and sometimes old prejudices on both sides return. The sad and bloody conflicts in the Middle East – in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, the city of peace! – are further burdens for our dialogue; it is not always easy to take a balanced position doing justice to the legitimate concerns of both sides.
Nevertheless, the developments of the last 40 years can been considered almost as a miracle from an historical perspective. Relations and visits at the highest institutional level –inconceivable 40 years ago- take place today; today there is a scholarly co-operation between rabbinical and Christian theologians and institutes; a great deal of symposiums, conferences, meetings and institutions like yours and our modest Pontifical Commission for religious relations with the Jews are organised; there are mighty signs and symbols as the memorial of the Holocaust in the cathedral of Buenos Aires; and –most important of all– friendships are developing, which represent the basis and core of any human relations and communities. Angelo Roncalli is the exemplary realisation of such hearty relations. He is the very patron of Jewish-Christian relations and friendship, and –in this- Pope John Paul II is his true successor, who gave many further impulses to the dialogue between Jews and Christians.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me come to a conclusion on an issue which has not yet found a conclusion. I thank you for the honour of this award; I thank you for your commitment -in the footsteps of Angelo Roncalli- to this task, which is essential for the Jewish-Christian reconciliation and for the peace in the world. Indeed you are working for the peace in the world in a special and decisive way.
The Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament explains something very important for the Jewish-Christian dialogue. It affirms that the dividing wall between Christians and Jews, between Church and Synagogue has broken down. It says that Christ has come and made peace. This peace is the goal we are attempting to achieve. The peace process between Jews and Christians is irreversible, it goes on, even if so little is said about it at the moment because of the conflict in the Middle East and even if much more needs to be done. ”Schalomisation” we could call it. The Letter to the Ephesians tells us that this is not an illusion or an utopia: this is authentic hope. Let’s go on. Schalom!