Pope John Paul II

Dialogika Resources

Address to the American Jewish Committee

Vatican City

Dear Friends:

It is a great pleasure for me to receive this important delegation of the American Jewish Committee, headed by your president, and I am grateful to you for this visit. You are most welcome in this house, which, as you know, is always open to members of the Jewish people.

You have come here to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate, on the relation of the Church with non-Christian religions, the fourth section of which deals at length with the Church's relation with Judaism.

During my recent pastoral visit to Venezuela, I received some representatives of the Jewish community there, in an encounter which has now become a normal feature of so many of my pastoral visits around the world. On that occasion, in response to the greeting address of Rabbi Pynchas Brener, I said that "I wish to confirm, with utmost conviction, that the teaching of the Church proclaimed during the Second Vatican Council in the declaration Nostra Aetate ... remains always for us, for the Catholic Church, for the Episcopate … and for the pope, a teaching which must be followed—a teaching which it is necessary to accept not merely as something fitting, but much more as an expression of the faith, as an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as a word of the Divine Wisdom" [L'Osservatore Romano, January 29,1985].

I willingly repeat those words to you who are commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the declaration. They express the commitment of the Holy See, and of the whole Catholic Church, to the content of this declaration, underlining, so to speak, its importance.

After twenty years, the terms of the declaration have not grown old. It is even more clear than before how sound the declaration's theological foundation is and what a solid basis it provides for a really fruitful Jewish-Christian dialogue. On the one hand, it places the motivation of such a dialogue in the very mystery of the Church herself and, on the other hand, it clearly maintains the identity of each religion, closely linking one to the other.

During these twenty years, an enormous amount of work has been done. You are well aware of it, since your organization is deeply committed to Jewish-Christian relations, on the basis of the declaration, on both the national and international levels, and particularly in connection with the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

I am convinced, and I am happy to state it on this occasion, that the relationships between Jews and Christians have radically improved in these years. Where there was ignorance and therefore prejudice and stereotypes, there is now growing mutual knowledge, appreciation, and respect. There is, above all, love between us, that kind of love, I mean, which is for both of us a fundamental injunction of our religious traditions and which the New Testament has received from the Old [cf. Mark 12:28-34; Lev. 19:18]. Love involves understanding. It also involves frankness and the freedom to disagree in a brotherly way where there are reasons for it.

There is no doubt that much remains to be done. Theological reflection is still needed, notwithstanding the amount of work already done and the results achieved thus far. Our biblical scholars and theologians are constantly challenged by the word of God that we hold in common.

Education should more accurately take into account the new insights and directives opened up by the Council and spelled out in the subsequent Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, No. 4, which remain in force. Education for dialogue, love and respect for others, and openness toward all people are urgent needs in our pluralistic societies, where everybody is a neighbor to everybody else.

Anti-Semitism, which is unfortunately still a problem in certain places, has been repeatedly condemned by the Catholic tradition as incompatible with Christ's teaching and with the respect due to the dignity of men and women created in the image and likeness of God. I once again express the Catholic Church's repudiation of all oppression and persecution, and of all discrimination against people—from whatever side it may come—"in law or in fact, on account of their race, origin, color, culture, sex, or religion" [Octogesima Adveniens, 23].

In close connection with the preceding, there is the large field of cooperation open to us as Christians and Jews, in favor of all humanity, where the image of God shines through in every man, woman, and child, especially in the destitute and those in need.

I am well aware of how closely the American Jewish Committee has collaborated with some of our Catholic agencies in alleviating hunger in Ethiopia and in the Sahel, in trying to call the attention of the proper authorities to this terrible plight, still sadly not solved, and which is therefore a constant challenge to all those who believe in the one true God, who is the Lord of history and the loving Father of all.

I know also your concern for the peace and security of the Holy Land. May the Lord give to that land, and to all the peoples and nations in that part of the word, the blessings contained in the word shalom, so that, in the expression of the Psalmist, "justice and peace may kiss" [cf. Ps. 85:11].

The Second Vatican Council and subsequent documents truly have this aim: that the sons and daughters of Abraham—Jews, Christians, and Muslims [cf. Nostra Aetate, 3]—may live together and prosper in peace. And may all of us love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength [cf. Deut. 6:5].

Thank you again for your visit.