Relations between Catholics and Jews have become “increasingly friendly and fraternal”, Pope Francis said on being presented with a document by rabbis from Europe, America and Israel on 31 August that was described by German bishops as “a milestone in Christian-Jewish relations”.
The rabbis were in Rome to present the first official declaration on Christianity by rabbinical organisations, “Between Jerusalem and Rome”. The document was in part a response to the Second Vatican Council’s landmark document, Nostra Aetate, which sought to make relations between the Church and other religions, Judaism in particular, more positive.
Representatives of the Conference of European Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel all met with the Pope in the Vatican to present the document. Addressing Francis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, said that the Jewish community had initially responded with scepticism to Nostra Aetate but the Church had made a “genuine and profound” change following its publication.
The Vatican II document condemns all forms of anti-semitism, which is increasing in Europe and the Middle East. A poll by the Anti-Defamation League in 2015 for the first time measured Muslim attitudes to Jews in Western Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It found that 75 per cent of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa embraced anti-semitic stereotypes and attitudes, while an average of 55 per cent of Western European Muslims did so. Solidarity with Jews was expressed by a majority of Western Europeans. In his own remarks, the Pope said the “ongoing implementation” of Nostra Aetate continued to improve relations between the faiths.
Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr of Erfurt, who is who is responsible for relations with Judaism in the German bishops’ conference, said in the eyes of the conference the document represented a “milestone in Christian-Jewish relations”. “It is the first official declaration on Christianity by rabbinical organisations”, he said in a statement published on the conference’s website. “The declaration thoroughly appreciates the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate and the post-conciliar proclamations by Popes (on Christian-Jewish relations) up to the present day as a turning point in Christian-Jewish relations … The rabbis do not conceal the theological differences between Judaism and Christianity but say that ‘Christians deserve a special status as they adore the Creator of Heaven and Earth who liberated the people of Israel from bondage...’” the statement said. “That is why they [the Jews] see Christians ‘as our partners, close allies and brothers in our mutual search for a better world in which peace, social justice and security prevail’.”
“We are trying to strengthen our partnership and cooperation with Catholics at a time when religious communities are faced with extremist violence on the one hand, and lack of understanding on the part of a world which has become increasingly hostile to religion on the other”, the Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Arie Folger, who co-authored the Rabbis’ Declaration and was one of the three rabbis who presented it to the Pope, said in a statement published on the Vienna Jewish community’s website.
PICTURE: Pope Francis last year (2016) became the third Pope to visit Rome's synagogue in a sign of continuing Catholic-Jewish friendship