ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
Rabbi Notes Progress in Jewish-Church Relations
Says Both Sides Share Many Interests, Values
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2010 (Zenit.org).- When Catholics and Jews get
to know each other, they tend to see each other as genuine friends who
have many of the same values and interests in common, affirms Rabbi
The Rabbi said this today at the Special Assembly for the Middle East
of the Synod of Bishops where he was invited as a special guest. The
two-week assembly seeks to address several challenges faced by the
Churches in the region.
In addition to Rosen, who is the advisor to the Chief Rabbinate of
Israel and director of the Department for Interreligious Affairs of the
American Jewish Committee, the synod also invited two representatives
of Islam: Mohammed Al-Sammak, political adviser to the mufti of
Lebanon, and Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, professor at
the Faculty of Law at the Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran and
Member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences.
"The relationship today between the Catholic Church and the Jewish
people is a blessed transformation in our times -- arguably without
historic parallel," said Rosen. He added that "this striking
transformation" is not complete, as more time is needed to overcome the
"contempt" toward Jews that had been spread for centuries.
However, improvement in relations has taken root, and Rosen was quick
to note that there are some countries where Catholic-Jewish relations
have progressed more than in others.
In the United States, he explained, "Jews and Christians live in an
open society side by side as vibrant self-confident and civically
engaged minorities. As a result the relationship has advanced there to
a unique degree involving cooperation and exchanges between the
communities and their educational institutions; and today the US boasts
literally dozens of academic institutions for Catholic-Jewish studies
and relations, while there are perhaps three in the rest of the world.
"Indeed, there is a widespread perception among the Jewish communities
in the United States of the Catholic Church as a genuine friend with
profound values and interests in common."
The rabbi lamented, however, that in other countries, and especially
those that are mostly Catholic, there is not only a lack of interest in
Judaism, but there is ignorance -- by even priests and other clergy --
of "Nostra Aetate," which is the fundamental document of the Second
Vatican Council on relations with other religions, and other current
Church documents on the topic.
Rosen also acknowledged that in Israel, "the only polity in the world
where Jews are a majority," Israelis have been "quite unaware of the
profound changes in Catholic-Jewish relations." But things are
changing, he stated, and gave two reasons.
John Paul II
The first impetus for change, according to the rabbi, "is the impact of
the visit of the late Pope John Paul II in the year 2000."
Rosen noted that Israel and the Holy See had established full bilateral
relations six years earlier, which had positively influenced
perceptions of the Church among Israelis, "it was the power of the
visual images, the significance of which Pope John Paul II understood
so well, that revealed clearly to the majority of Israeli society the
transformation that had taken place in Christian attitudes and teaching
toward the Jewish people with whom the Pope himself had maintained and
further sought mutual friendship and respect."
"For Israelis," he continued, "to see the Pope at the Western Wall, the
remnant of the Second Temple, standing there in respect for Jewish
tradition and placing there the text that he had composed for a liturgy
of forgiveness that had taken place two weeks earlier here at St.
Peter's, asking Divine forgiveness for sins committed against the Jews
down the ages, was stunning and overwhelming in its effect."
Rosen credited John Paul II's visit not only for changing attitudes,
but also for opening up "the remarkable new avenue for dialogue,
understanding and collaboration in the form of the bilateral commission
of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See's Commission for
Religious Relations with Jewry, established at John Paul II's
initiative and praised extensively by Pope Benedict XVI during his
pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year and also in his words at the
great synagogue here in Rome earlier this year."
Rosen said a second factor leading to a change of attitude of Israelis
toward Christians "is the influx of other Christians who have doubled
the demographic make-up of Christianity in Israel."
The rabbi reported that some 50,000 Christians immigrated to Israel
from the former Soviet Union over the past 20 years, and who are full
Israeli citizens, but that there is also a large population of migrant
workers who are mainly Christian.
He said these migrant workers, of which half either entered illegally
or overstayed their visas, are from the Philippines, Eastern Europe,
Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.