THE ISRAEL REPORTMarch/April 2000
On behalf of the millions of Protestants and Catholics worldwide who share our vision for the prophetic restoration of Zion, it is our hope that, during his visit to the Holy Land, the Pope will use this unique opportunity to build on his unprecedented papal record of goodwill towards the Jewish people.
We recognize that Pope John Paul II has done more to promote reconciliation with the Jewish faith than perhaps all previous popes combined, as his personal witness of the Holocaust kindled a life-long, genuine attachment to the Jews. He was the first pope to declare anti-Semitism a sin against God; the first to visit a synagogue; the first to commemorate the Holocaust inside the Vatican; the first to affirm the right of Jews to return to their ancient homeland; and the first to confirm the enduring nature of God's covenants with the Jews. And it was under his leadership that the Vatican recognized the state of Israel - though not Jerusalem as its capital.
We note these dramatic and overdue changes in Catholic doctrine and attitude towards the "elder brothers" of the Christian faith are reflective of similar positive developments that have occurred among many other Christians and denominations in recent centuries.
Nonetheless, for many Jews there remain sincere, unresolved grievances against the Catholic Church which should not be ignored or evaded any longer, the most painful of which is the silence of the papacy during the "tragedy" of the Holocaust. We urge the Pope to expressly apologize for the Church's institutional role in contributing to the widespread anti-Semitic beliefs and attitudes that eventually produced the Holocaust in Europe, and for Pope Pius XII's failure to denounce the Nazi genocide.
The recently concluded Vatican-PLO agreement also has aroused concern in Israel, and in our view it is flawed on several accounts, particularly in its implicit criticism of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. From an historical perspective, we protest the fact this document fails to note that, ever since Israel began administering the entire city in 1967, there has never been as much freedom of conscience and worship and freedom of access to the holy sites of all faiths in Jerusalem, which is guaranteed by law.
From a theological standpoint, we note that the "sacred character" of Jerusalem was established in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in heart of the Jewish nation and people, at least seven centuries before Christ and 1400 years before the advent of Islam. It would be appropriate for the Pope to acknowledge that Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, gained universal religious significance because it was “holy” to the Jews first, and that the Christian faith was born in the cradle and matrix of a Jewish Jerusalem. We believe that, due to their deep reverence for this city and its divine calling, the Jewish people are its best custodians, and it would be moral and scriptural error to seek to divest the Jewish presence from any part of this city.
Regarding his visit to Palestinian-ruled areas, we would hope that the Pope would be careful not to let his presence be manipulated in any symbolic displays of Palestinian independence - which is an issue to be resolved in the current final-status talks with Israel. We note the PLO’s long record of atrocities and persecution against Christians, particularly among the pro-papacy Maronite community in Lebanon and the Christian minority now under Palestinian Authority rule. In recent years, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat has carefully maneuvered to court favor with Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church leaders. Is it right for the Vatican to overlook or condone this double standard?
Palestinian leaders may also use their audience with the Pope to promote once again the deceptive image of the "Palestinian Jesus," whom they often portray as the first Palestinian revolutionary who suffered at the hands of the Jews. It has been reported that when the two met at the Vatican in February, Arafat greeted the Pope as the successor of the "Palestinian" apostle Peter - whom Catholics consider the first pope. John Paul II must immediately and publicly correct any such dishonest political exploitation of our Lord and the other Jewish founders of Christianity.
In light of all the remarkable developments during his papacy, it would be disappointing for Pope John Paul II to leave Jerusalem regretting - as he did after the Holocaust - that he did not do enough for the Jews. If he truly aspires to crown his pontificate by tracing “the history of salvation,” we trust he realizes that this biblical story begins and ends, not with the Catholic Church, but with the Jewish people. It is also hoped that his historic and timely visit will inspire millions of Catholics worldwide to come to Israel and to appreciate thereby her unique biblical significance.