View From Rome
21 July 2016
View from Rome
During his time in Poland next week, Pope Francis will go to Auschwitz, where he will simply pray in silence and ask to be given “the grace to cry”.
It will be a moment to remember the horrors perpetrated against Jews by Nazis during the Second World War, but it also provides an opportunity to reflect on how the Holocaust changed the Church, seen most clearly in the dramatic shift in Catholic-Jewish relations.
As a Vatican document on the Church’s relationship with Jews released at the end of last year pointed out, “The dark and terrible shadow of the Shoah over Europe during the Nazi period led the Church to reflect anew on her bond with the Jewish people.”
This reflection intensified at the Second Vatican Council, where it led to the landmark document Nostra Aetate, a relatively short and simple text which condemned all forms of anti-Semitism. After centuries of Christian hostility to Jews, this was a vitally important moment. A new dialogue with Judaism was opened up. The relationship was further deepened by John Paul II, the first Pope to visit Auschwitz and to speak in Rome’s synagogue; he famously described Jews as “our elder brothers”.
But it is not just Catholic-Jewish relations that Nostra Aetate changed forever: Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are all covered by the document, which laid the foundations for the work of the Church’s present-day inter-religious dialogue.
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