Christians Visit Jerusalem To Repent For Holocaust, Other Atrocities
By Julie Stahl
CNS Jerusalem Bureau Chief
April 20, 2001
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - More than 700 Christians from 25 nations braved the tense security situation - and in some cases travel warnings from their governments - to attend a three-day conference in Jerusalem this week, dedicated to repentance for 2000 years of anti-Semitism in the Christian church.
Sponsored by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, a Protestant Germany-based sisterhood founded in 1947, the conference drew Christians primarily from Protestant denominations, some 45 Americans among them, with the aim of "Changing the Future by Confronting the Past."
The Christians believe the Jews are God's "chosen people" and should therefore be respected by Christians like an "elder brother." They regard Christian persecution of the Jews down the ages as a sin, which has spiritual and physical consequences on the countries in which they live.
"We have come together from the four corners of the earth for a corporate act of repentance in Jerusalem for our sins against the Jewish people," said Sister Pista, chairman of the Sisterhood.
"We cannot undo the past. The greatest service we can do [the Jews] is to acknowledge our failure as a nation and as a community of nations at the time of the Holocaust and express our immeasurable sorrow for nearly 2,000 years of Christian antagonism towards the Jewish people," said Sister Pista, who is German.
The highlight of the conference was a repentance service on Thursday, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day.
It was not just Germans who expressed guilt for the treatment of the Jews.
Sister Charis, a Canadian sister, who joined the order almost 30 years ago, said until about six years ago she never realized how her own nation had wronged the Jewish people.
"I belong to one of the nations [that] fought against the Nazis," Sister Charis said. But in 1995 she learned that her own nation had also played a negative role, when she read a book called None is Too Many.
The title comes from a quote from Canada's wartime immigration minister, when asked how many Jewish refugees from Europe his country would take in.
(see our article None Is Too Many - A Cause for Canadians To Repent)
"In every country [during the war] there were people who were morally good, [with] a sense of what was right," Sister Charis said. But most people were merely indifferent.
Sister Charis (the name means grace) said if people fail to speak out now in response to the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, media bias against Israel, or anti-Semitism - when the personal cost of speaking out is low - they will certainly not respond when doing so might cost them their lives.
Church historians acknowledge that while many Christians were willing to risk imprisonment or death by hiding or saving Jews from the Nazis, by and large churches had remained silent.
Sister Charis said that wherever she speaks she challenges people to learn their own country or city's history with regard to the Jewish people, and then to do something about it.
Among the atrocities renounced during the two-hour repentance service were those committed by the Crusaders during the Middle Ages, including the burning alive of Jerusalem's Jews, locked in their synagogues as the Crusaders sang hymns outside, believing they were avenging the death of Christ.
"We deplore the cruelties and injustices of the Spanish Inquisition, which consigned thousands of Jews, coerced into baptism, to be burned at the stake for continuing any Jewish practices," the liturgy read.
It said prejudice shaped by theology and preaching had caused "many of us, or our parents and grandparents, either to give tacit consent to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust or to remain indifferent to their plight."
Amalia Miodownik, was one of some 200 Israelis who attended the session. Although not a Holocaust survivor, she escaped as a child from Russia.
Miodownik, who traveled from the coastal city of Netanya to attend the meeting, said she was moved by the fact that Christians, albeit a small number, had come to express their sorrow and stand with her people on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The founder of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, Mother Basilea Schlink, died just last month.
EVANGELICAL SISTERHOOD OF MARY