The Pope on the Jews

John Paul II put great emphasis on improving Catholic-Jewish relations.

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John Paul II with Rabbi Ilio Toaff, then Rome's chief rabbi, on April 13, 1986, when the pontiff became the first-ever to visit a synagogue. Photo credit: Beth Hatefusoth, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora)

On Israel, Anti-Semitism, & Mideast Conflict

From an address by the pope to the new Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Sept. 18, 2000.

The Holy Land will always occupy a central place in the minds and hearts of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Year 2000, with its commemoration of the birth of Jesus, could not but draw the loving attention of millions of Christian people in every corner of the earth to the places where Jesus lived, died and rose again. The vivid experience of my pilgrimage to the Holy Places lives on in my spirit as an extraordinary grace of God and a kind of testimony that I would like to leave, especially to the younger generation, as an invitation to build a new era of relations between Christians and Jews....

The Church is fully aware that "she draws sustenance from the root of that good olive tree on to which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles" (Nostra Aetate, 4). The spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is so great and so vital to the religious and moral health of the human family that every effort must be made to advance and expand our dialogue, especially on biblical, theological and ethical matters. And a fresh mutual and sincere attempt must be made at every level to help Christians and Jews to know, respect and esteem more fully each other's beliefs and traditions.

This is the surest way to overcome the prejudices of the past and to raise a barrier against the forms of anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, which are re-appearing in some places today. Today as always, it is not genuine religious faith and practice which give rise to the tragedy of discrimination and persecution, but loss of faith and the rise of a selfish and materialistic outlook bereft of true values, a culture of emptiness. Therefore your words, Mr. Ambassador, about the need for moral leadership in responding to some of the more daunting challenges facing mankind in the new millennium find a ready echo in the convictions of the Holy See.

A continuing source of sadness is the elusive character of a definitive peace in the Middle East. We all rejoice every time a step forward is announced in the complex negotiations which have become an essential feature of relations between Israel and its neighbors, especially the Palestinian Authority. The continuation of dialogue and negotiation is itself a significant development. And it is important to acknowledge just how substantial is the progress made so far, lest those involved be discouraged at the size of the task still ahead. Sometimes the obstacles to peace appear so great and so many that to face them seems humanly impossible. But what seemed unthinkable even a few short years ago is now a reality or at least a matter of open discussion, and this must convince all concerned that a solution is possible. It must encourage everyone to press forward with hope and perseverance.

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