Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Pope John Paul II Hailed for New Ties with Jews; Hope Is Expressed for a Continuation Under Pope Benedict XVI

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May - June 2005

The death of Pope John Paul II focused attention upon his efforts for Christian-Jewish reconciliation.  

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, declared that, “None of the Pope’s initiatives was more fundamental, or more emblematic of the man, than the transformation of Catholic-Jewish relations. The changes began with Nostra Aetate, the historic 1965 statement of the Second Vatican Council that opened the door to better relations between the two faiths. But Nostra Aetate was Janus-faced, including backward-looking elements. John Paul moved its policy direction positively forward. And, as one Polish priest recently noted, ‘Until his accession these were merely lifeless documents, John Paul invested them with human content,’ The historical record is clear: John Paul was the best pope in history for the Jewish people.”  

Under his direction, the Vatican affirmed Judaism as an ongoing valid covenant with God, provided diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel, and pointed to the Holocaust as a theological turning point, combined with acknowledgement that Christians need to repent for centuries of spreading negative images of Jews.  

Writing in The Forward (April 8, 2005), Rabbi Greenberg notes that, “The results were unprecedented, as John Paul, in effect, repudiated the classic Christian doctrine that the old — the original Jewish — Covenant no longer was valid because it had been ‘fulfilled’ in the life and death of Jesus Christ ... The first clear sign of this revolution came in a 1980 address to the Jewish community of Mainz, Germany, when John Paul spoke of Judaism as ‘the Old Covenant, never revoked by God.’ Six years later in Rome, he reiterated the theologically groundbreaking point during history’s first papal visit to a standing Jewish synagogue. ‘The Jews are beloved of God, who has called them with an irrevocable calling,’ the pope declared. During his Rome synagogue visit, John Paul advocated moving beyond ‘a mere coexistence’ and affirmed that Jewish-Christian relations were predicated on recognition and respect for each religion ‘in its own identity, beyond any syncretism or any ambiguous approproation.’”  

When he visited Jerusalem, John Paul II inserted a written prayer in the Western Wall of the Temple: “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring Your Name to the Nations; we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”  

Writing about Pope John Paul II in the Jewish Post and Opinion (April 20, 2005), Prof. Miriam Zimmerman of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California, reports that, “On the Shabbat eve of the pope’s death, my rabbi, Nathaniel Ezray of Temple Beth Jacob of Redwood City, California, told the story of a Roman Catholic priest just after World War II. Fugitive Jewish parents brought their children to a Polish woman. The parents perished in the Holocaust, and the Catholic woman wanted to raise them as her own. After the war she took her children to the local priest, Karol Jozef Wojtyla, to be converted to Catholicism. The future pope refused, saying that she had been entrusted to save Jewish children and that they were to remain Jewish. Thus early in his career, as nothing more than a parish priest, Pope John Paul II demonstrated his empathy for the Jewish people and did the right thing. Such is the substance of greatness.”  

Jewish groups generally praised Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s selection as the new Pope Benedict XVI, expressing hope that he would further John Paul II’s work on ties between the Holy See and the Jewish community. Rabbi Israel Singer, chair of the World Jewish Congress, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Cardinal Ratzinger was “the architect of the policy that John Paul II fulfilled with regard to relations with the Jews. He is the architect of the ideological policy to recognize, to have full relations with Israel.” In 2002, he authorized publication of a report that stated that “the Jewish messianic wait is not in vain.”  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.