Modern Milestones in Catholic-Jewish Relations

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Milestones in Modern
Catholic-Jewish Relations
Compiled by Sister Lucy Thorson NDS and Murray Watson
With its 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate (On the Church’s Relationship
to Non-Christian Religions), the Catholic Church inaugurated a
historic and wide-ranging transformation in its thinking about, and
relating to, Judaism and the Jewish people. Since then, Nostra Aetate
has provided the inspiration and direction for dozens of significant
documents and events that have helped to significantly re-shape the
Jewish-Catholic relationship. As the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra
Aetate approaches (in 2015), the Interfaith Department of Scarboro
Missions is pleased to offer this overview of many of those documents
and events, which illustrate the growth and development of the
dialogue between these two ancient faiths.
This material is intended for a wide range of audiences, including (but
not limited to) secondary school religion classes, adult faith formation
programmes, and local interfaith conversations. We hope that it will
help to make these important “Milestones” better known, and will
help us to build upon the remarkable foundation of the past halfcentury. We have much to celebrate, and much to be grateful for!
… you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in … to share
the rich root of the olive tree … remember that it is
not you that support the root, but the root that
supports you.
(Romans 11:17-18)
Since the Second World War, the Catholic Church
has been involved in a deliberate process of
rethinking its relationship to Judaism and the
Jewish people. Especially in the wake of the Second
Vatican Council, Catholic-Jewish relations have
improved tremendously–on local, national and
international levels.
Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) lights
the Hanukkah menorah at a Buenos Aires synagogue
Circa 1962: Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel
and Cardinal Augustin Bea, SJ
2011 Executive of the International Council of
Christians and Jews (ICCJ), in Jerusalem
As several Jewish and Catholic leaders have noted, there have
probably been more positive encounters between Jews and
Catholics in the last sixty years than in the previous fifteen
hundred. These years have been a time of renewal, hope and
growing cooperation between these two faiths evidenced by the
multitude of Catholic-Jewish dialogue groups, organizations
and institutions that have emerged throughout the world since
Vatican II.
The following listing of events provides a taste of
how relations between Catholics and Jews have been
changing and developing in recent decades – and
this is a journey that has only just begun.
Ten Points of Seelisberg
An international conference of Jews, Protestants and
Catholics, gathered in Switzerland to confront the
reality of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, issues a
series of ten principles to guide Christian teaching
and preaching when referring to Jews and Judaism
1947 Seelisberg Conference participants and commissions
Good Friday Prayer
Pope John XXIII modifies the intercessory prayer
for the Jews in the Church’s Good Friday liturgy by
suppressing the term “perfidious (faithless,
unbelieving) Jews.” Over the years, the prayer
continues to undergo revision to bring it more in
keeping with the renewal in Church teaching about
the Jews and Judaism.
A Latin missal
(the ritual book containing the prayers for the Mass)
Pope John XXIII and Jules Isaac
Jules Isaac, a noted French Jewish historian,
presents Pope John XXIII with historical
documentation on Christian anti-Judaism and
attitudes which contributed to the Holocaust.
Pope John XXIII
Jules Isaac
Vatican II and Nostra
Called by Pope John XXIII, the
Second Vatican Council (196265) issues Nostra Aetate (The
Declaration on the Relationship
of the Church to Non-Christian
Religions.) Nostra Aetate #4
addresses the issue of Christian
attitudes towards the Jewish
people. This document marks
the end of a long era in the
history of Catholic-Jewish
relations and the beginning of a
new age of dialogue between the
two ancient communities.
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome,
showing the 2800 bishops from
around the world who attended
Vatican II (1962-65)
New Vatican Commission
What was formerly the Office for Catholic- Jewish
Relations – created in 1966 and attached to the
Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity – is
renamed the Holy See’s Commission for Religious
Relations with the Jews.
“Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the
Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (No. 4)”
This Vatican document proposes some concrete suggestions
born of experience to help to promote in the life of the Church
the attitudes towards the Jewish people articulated in the 1965
declaration Nostra Aetate No.4. In particular, this document
encourages Christians to “acquire a better knowledge of the
basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism and to
learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in
light of their own religious experience.”
Pesach [Passover], Sukkot [Feast of Booths/Tabernacles] and Shavuot [Feast of Weeks]
are some of the feasts and commemorations on the Jewish calendar
Karol Wojtyla elected Pope
From the beginning of his twenty-six year
pontificate, the newly elected Pope-John Paul II sets
out to build a new relationship between the Church
and the Jewish people.
Pope John Paul II on the night of his election in 1978
Pope John Paul II – A Covenant
Never Revoked
Addressing the Jewish community in Mainz,
Germany, John Paul II insists on the eternal validity
of God’s covenant with the Jews, a theme repeated in
subsequent Church teachings.
Reading from a Hebrew Torah scroll in the synagogue
“Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews
and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in
the Roman Catholic Church”
This Vatican document provides a helpful reference
for those who teach and preach about Jews and
Judaism and wish to do so in accord with the current
teaching of the Church.
Jewish children embracing a Torah
scroll wrapped in its ceremonial
A printed Hebrew Bible
Pope John Paul II Visits Rome Synagogue
John Paul II becomes the first Pope in history to visit Rome’s
chief synagogue. In his speech he reiterates the Second Vatican
Council’s condemnation of all discrimination toward the Jews
and states:
Pope John Paul II embraces Rome’s
Chief Rabbi, Dr. Elio Toaff
Pope John Paul II and Chief Rabbi
Toaff in the Rome synagogue
“The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is
‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a
relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are
our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said
that you are our elder brothers.”
Israel-Vatican Accord
Israel and the Vatican establish full diplomatic ties,
easing decades of diplomatic tensions between the
two states.
Monsignor Claudio Celli (representing the Vatican) and
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin
exchange copies of the documents establishing IsraeliVatican diplomatic relations
Vatican Symposium “Roots of Anti-Judaism
in the Christian Milieu”
Addressing the symposium, John Paul II says, “In
the Christian world … erroneous and unjust
interpretations of the New Testament regarding the
Jewish people … have circulated too long
engendering feelings of hostility toward this people.”
“We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah”
In a long-awaited document on the Holocaust, the
Church expresses repentance for those Christians
who failed to oppose the Nazi persecution of the
The sign over the gate to the
Auschwitz death camp (in
German, “Work makes you free”)
One of the infamous
yellow stars which the
Nazis forced Jews to wear
Prisoners in a Nazi
concentration camp
during World War II
Visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel
Following a Lenten liturgy in which he prayed for
God’s forgiveness “for those who have caused these
children [the Jews] to suffer” Pope John Paul II
undertakes a historic visit to Israel, during which he
visits Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, and
places in the Wall a copy of his Lenten prayer.
Pope John Paul inserting his prayer
in Jerusalem’s Western Wall
Pope John Paul’s
prayer, tucked
in to the Western
Historic scholarly documents
In 2000, an interdenominational group of Jewish
scholars issues Dabru Emet, a consensus document
offering eight suggestions about how Jews and
Christians might better relate to one another. In
2002, the Christian Scholars Group on ChristianJewish Relations publishes its response to Dabru
Emet, entitled “A Sacred Obligation”.
Dr. Michael Signer
“Dabru Emet” contributor
Dr. Mary Boys
“A Sacred Obligation” contributor
“The Jewish People and Their Sacred
Scriptures in the Christian Bible”
The Pontifical Biblical Commission publishes a thorough study
of the relationship between the New Testament and the
Hebrew Scriptures. The document notes that Christians have
much to learn from Jewish interpretation of the Bible and
confronts the problem of anti-Jewish passages in the New
Reading from a Torah scroll
in a synagogue
Bilateral Commission of the Israeli Chief
Rabbinate and the Holy See
As a result of Pope John Paul’s visit to the State of Israel in
2000, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See
established a joint commission which has continued to meet
annually, to address topics of shared concern, and to
strengthen the relationship between the Vatican and the
religious leadership of Israel.
A meeting of the Bilateral Commission
Joseph Ratzinger elected Pope
As a cardinal, Pope Benedict had been a close collaborator with
Pope John Paul II in many of his historic interfaith initiatives
and writings.
In his homily for the Mass inaugurating
his papacy, the new Pope specifically
mentioned the Jews among those to
whom he extended greetings: “With
great affection I also greet … you, my
brothers and sisters of the Jewish
people, to whom we are joined by a great
shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in
God’s irrevocable promises.”
Pope Benedict XVI
His first official correspondence as Pope
was a letter of congratulations to the Chief
Rabbi-emeritus of Rome’s Great
Synagogue, Dr. Elio Toaff, on the occasion
of his 90th birthday.
Chief Rabbi-emeritus Toaff and Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict visits three synagogues
In August 2005, as part of his pilgrimage to
Germany for World Youth Day, the Pope visited the
synagogue of Cologne, where he said:
Pope Benedict is welcomed
to the Cologne synagogue
Pope Benedict receives the gift of a
shofar (a ceremonial ram’s-horn trumpet)
“We must come to know one another much more and much
better. Consequently, I would encourage sincere and trustful
dialogue between Jews and Christians … Our rich common
heritage and our fraternal and more trusting relations call
upon us to join in giving an ever more harmonious witness.”
On April 28, 2008, Pope Benedict was the guest of
Rabbi Arthur Schneier (below) and the congregation
of Park East Synagogue in New York City. In his
remarks, the Pope said:
“I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy,
heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place
such as this,” and he encouraged everyone present
“to continue building bridges of friendship”.
In January 2010, Pope Benedict marked Italy’s
annual “Day for Judaism” by visiting the main
synagogue of Rome, repeating the historic visit first
made by his predecessor. There, he invited Jews and
Christians to come together to proclaim the religious
and ethical teachings they share …
Pope Benedict and
Chief Rabbi Di Segni
“Reawakening in our society openness to the
transcendent dimension, witnessing to the one God,
is a precious service which Jews and Christians can
offer together … Bearing witness together to the
supreme value of life against all selfishness, is an
important contribution to a new world where justice
and peace reign …”
Papal recommitment to the vision of Nostra Aetate
On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate’s
promulgation, Pope Benedict wrote:
Pope Benedict is welcomed to the Rome
synagogue by Chief Rabbi di Segni
Pope Benedict and Chief Rabbi di
Segni in the Rome synagogue
“The Jewish-Christian dialogue must continue to enrich
and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed,
while preaching and catechesis must be committed to
ensuring that our mutual relations are presented in the
light of the principles set forth by the Council.”
Pope quotes Jewish rabbi-scholar in his own
book about Jesus
In April, Pope Benedict published the first volume in a
trilogy, “Jesus of Nazareth”. In it, he quotes extensively
from a 1993 book by Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a
distinguished scholar of Judaism, called A Rabbi Talks
With Jesus.
Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Israel and
the Palestinian Territories
From May 8 to 15, Pope Benedict visited the Holy
Land, meeting with religious and political leaders in
both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, visiting
major Jewish sites and expressing the solidarity of
the Catholic Church with the peoples of that region.
Pope Benedict and Israeli President
Shimon Peres, at the official
welcoming ceremony
Pope Benedict meeting with
Palestinian families
International Council
of Christians and Jews
issues “A Time For
More than sixty years after the
ICCJ published its seminal
“Ten Points of Seelisberg,” the
“Twelve Points of Berlin”
is issued in July, as an attempt
to address key topics in JewishChristian relations in the light
of the considerable progress in
this dialogue, and to provide
guiding principles for the
25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s
Assisi Day of Prayer
On October 25, Pope Benedict reprised his predecessor’s historic
interreligious gathering in Assisi, by inviting the world’s religious
leaders to come together again, and to pray for peace in the world.
Three hundred religious representatives accepted his invitation.
Pope Benedict in Assisi, flanked by dozens of prominent religious
leaders from around the world
Pope Benedict, together with religious leaders, including
the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Patriarch of
Constantinople, and Rabbi David Rosen
In speaking of the shared religious aspiration of peace, Pope
Benedict said: “We will continue to be united in this journey, in
dialogue, in the daily building of peace and in our commitment to
a better world, a world in which every man and woman and every
people can live in accordance with their own legitimate
Historic Papal Transition
Pope Benedict XVI resigns the papacy on February 28.
On March 13, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is elected
as Pope Francis. One of the new Pope’s first acts is to
send a message to Rome’s Jewish community, informing
them of his election, and inviting their presence for his
installation Mass.
Pope Francis, on the evening
of his election
It was quickly revealed that Pope Francis had a
longstanding and warm relationship with
Argentina’s Jewish community, and had published a
book of his conversations with Rabbi Abraham
Skorka, a close friend and colleague [in English: On
Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family,
and the Church in the Twenty-First Century, 2013].
Their joint book
Then-Cardinal Bergoglio
with Rabbi Skorka
From May 24 to 26, Pope Francis pays his first papal visit to
the Holy Land, visiting Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian
Territories, accompanied by his good friend Rabbi Abraham
Skorka and Omar Abboud, a leader of the Muslim community
in Argentina. The Pope’s visit was intended to promote a
message of peace, reconciliation and interfaith dialogue. It also
specifically marked the fiftieth anniversary of the historic visit
of Pope Paul VI to Israel, when that Pope met Athenagoras, the
Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
Pope Francis sharing an embrace
with Rabbi Skorka and Imam Abboud
Pope Francis praying at the
Western Wall in Jerusalem.
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To contact Sister Lucy Thorson: [email protected]
To contact Murray Watson: [email protected]

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