June 2001 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- June 2001- Vol. VII, no. 6


1) German Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century
2) Book review: a) Feldkamp, Pius XII und Deutschland
b) Allen, Cardinal Ratzinger
3) Declaration on Christian-Jewish Relations, Cardinal Ratzinger
4) Nuncio Roncalli’s efforts on behalf of the Jews

Dear Friends,
I am deeply indebted to my longtime friend Prof. John S. Conway, for
the opportunity to edit this issue of the Newsletter – the fruit of his
dedication and hard work over many years. It is devoted to Catholic
themes, previous issues having dealt extensively with Protestant ones.
In the forefront of current debate about twentieth-century Catholic
history is the controversy over the role of Pope Pius XII during the
Holocaust. The Pope’s severest critics today are Catholics: Gary Wills,
John Cornwell, James Carroll – an essayist, a journalist, and a novelist
respectively; and the historians, Susan Zuccotti and Michael Phayer.
Evident in their writings is a common agenda: discrediting papal
authority in the hope of influencing the selection of a more “liberal”
pontiff in the next papal election.
Prominent among the Pope’s defenders is the American rabbi, David L.
Dalin. At the end of a 4000-word article in the Feb. 26, 2001 issue of
“The Weekly Standard,” Dalin cites the Talmudic dictum: “Whosoever
preserves one life, it is accounted to him by Scripture as if he had
preserved a whole world.” Dalin comments: “More than any other
twentieth-century leader, Pius fulfilled this Talmudic dictum, when the
fate of European Jewry was at stake. No other pope had been so widely
praised by Jews – and they were not mistaken. Their gratitude, as well
as that of the entire generation of Holocaust survivors, testifies that
Pius XII was, genuinely and profoundly, a righteous gentile.”
“For Jewish leaders of a previous generation,” Rabbi Dalin writes, “the
[current] campaign against Pius XII would have been a source of shock.”
What caused this radical shift of opinion? Rolf Hochhuth’s play, “The
Deputy,” first performed in 1963, was the occasion, though not the
cause. The play appeared just as the rebellion against authority was
getting underway in Western democracies. The demonization of an
authority figure revered by millions was welcome to an age proclaiming
the death of God and rejecting the pretensions of those claiming to
speak in his name. It is equally welcome today to those who hold there
is no such thing as truth, only different opinions.
Among historians a consensus about the most extreme charges against Pius XII
appears to be forming. Whatever missed opportunities in
papal policy we can identify over a half-century later, Pius XII was
neither “Hitler’s Pope” nor an anti-Semite. At the recent debate
between Ronald Rychlak and Susan Zuccotti at Trinity College, Hartford,
all the Pope’s critics explicitly rejected both charges. That they
continue to be trumpeted by the media reflects a phenomenon observable
throughout history: the public’s appetite for sensation and scandal.

I can e-mail Rabbi Dalin’s article to anyone who requests it. Dalin is
at work on a book which will expand his findings.

John Jay Hughes,
Archdiocese of St Louis, Missouri, USA

1) “Witnesses for Christ”
In his 1994 apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente Pope John Paul
II, after recalling the martyrs of the first millennium, wrote: “In our
century the martyrs have returned, many of them nameless ‘unknown
soldiers’ as it were of God’s great cause. As far as possible, their
witness should not be lost to the church. … The local churches should
do everything possible to ensure that the memory of those who have
suffered martyrdom should be safeguarded, gathering the necessary
documentation.” (37)
No local church has fulfilled the Pope’s wish as fully as that in
Germany. Two massive volumes in German, with a combined weight of 8
pounds, were published last year recording, in meticulous detail, the
stories of some 700 German Catholics of both sexes who, in the century
just closed, suffered violent deaths out of hatred for the faith: under
Nazism and Communism, in mission countries, and while resisting rape
(“martyrs of purity”) or defending its victims. The number of these
“witnesses for Christ” (the book’s title) is “far more than we initially
supposed,” writes the Bishop of Mainz and President of the German
Bishops’ Conference Karl Lehmann in a Foreword..
Criteria for inclusion are taken from those established by the learned
canonist Prospero Lambertini and later Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) for
the canonization of martyrs: a violent death, motivated by hatred of the
church and the faith, and willing acceptance of God’s will despite
mortal danger. No one is included whose death did not with certainty
satisfy all three conditions.
Writing of the martyrs in the Nazi period, the editor says: “The
church points with pride to its martyrs not in order to cover up its
failures, but out of gratitude.” More than 160 diocesan priests and
almost 60 male religious were martyred by the Nazis. There were also
110 lay martyrs of both sexes: among them a 17-year-old apprentice, and
two 19-year-olds, one a female convert from Judaism. The oldest lay
martyrs were 73 and 74 respectively. Women comprised 14 percent of the
total, many of them highly educated people in prominent positions or
persons of Jewish origin. “It is certain that there were many times
more than we were able to find,” the editor writes. He also pays
tribute to the many non-Catholic martyrs, part of the 12,000
commemorated by Pope John Paul II at an “Ecumenical Commemoration of
Twentieth Century Witnesses to the Faith” in Rome’s Colosseum on 7 May
The list of communism’s victims, starting in 1917 – a laywoman and 108
priests including 5 bishops and an abbot – consists mostly of
“Volksdeutsche”: ethnic Germans settled for generations in the Balkans
or Russia. This category also includes more than 60 “martyrs of
purity,” most of them religious Sisters (the oldest 93 and 88
respectively) but many laywomen as well. Of the 18 killed while trying
to defend victims of rape, 13 were priests, 2 religious Sisters. The
list of over 170 missionary martyrs begins in Papua New Guinea in 1904
and ends in Zimbabwe in 1988. Herewith a look at a few of the martyrs
under Nazism.
Army Lieutenant Michael Kitzelmann, age 26, was shot on the Russian
front in 1942 for writing in a letter: “At home they banish the
crucifixes from the schools, while here they tell us we’re fighting
against godless communism.” Before his execution he forgave the
sergeant who had denounced him. His farewell letter to his loved ones
said the Catholic chaplain had just visited him: “God has granted me
the grace of a holy death. I go ahead of you to our heavenly homeland.
Divine Redeemer, grant me a merciful judgment when I come to you.
Praised be Jesus Christ!”
The university student Robert Limpert, deeply religious and an open
critic of the Nazis, distributed fliers demanding that his home town of
Ansbach be declared an open city. On 18 April 1945, with American
troops already on the town’s outskirts, the local Nazi commander
personally hanged Limpert on the wall of the city hall. American troops
cut down the body four hours later. His memorial tablet bears the
inscription: “Executed for resistance to the Third Reich on 18 April
1945, aged 19.”
In Regensburg the 38-year-old diocesan priest and Cathedral Preacher,
Dr. Johann Baptist Maier, spoke in the late afternoon of 23 April 1945
at a demonstration by hundreds of citizens demanding that the city be
surrendered to the American troops, then only 20 km away. When the
protest threatened to get out of hand, Maier admonished the crowd to
respect constituted authority. As he started to give the reasons for
declaring Regensburg an open city, he was arrested. A hastily assembled
court martial condemned him to death as a “saboteur” hours later. He
was hanged on the site of the demonstration before dawn the next day.
Hanged with him was the 74-year-old pensioner, Josef Zirkl, a staunch
opponent of the Nazis. His crime: protesting the priest’s arrest. The
46-year-old policeman Michael Lottner, retired due to a service-related
injury, also protested and was shot while defending himself from
beating. His body was laid beneath the gallows on which Maier and Zirkl
were hanged. The American troops entered Regensburg three days later
without a fight. Maier’s tomb in the Regensburg Cathedral bears the
inscription: “He gave his life for the preservation of Regensburg. …
His tongue is silenced, but his deed and his death continue to preach.”
The 22-year-old university student Eva-Maria Buch was beheaded in
Berlin on August 5, 1943 for distributing fliers to imprisoned French
workers in munition factories warning that their compatriots could be
killed by the fruits of their labor. The priest who gave Buch communion
before her execution marveled at her cheerfulness throughout her long
imprisonment and right up to her death.
Executed with Buch were 12 more women and 3 men from her resistance
group, one of them a Catholic: the 33-year-old Maria Terwiel, who
smuggled food and ration cards to Jews and in 1941 distributed copies of
the celebrated anti-Nazi sermons of Bishop von Galen of Münster.
The 28-year-old Army Lieutenant Alfons Zurawski was beheaded on October
6, 1942 for fraternizing with Polish forced laborers, and giving food to
starving Polish prisoners of war. His farewell letter said that the
sacraments he had just received “made my final hours some of the most
beautiful of my whole life.”
Mingled with these and hundreds of others who died in obscurity, and
would remain there but for this work, are the better known victims. The
lay Catholic Action leader Dr. Erich Klausener, was shot at his desk in
Berlin on June 30, 1934 as a “dangerous Catholic leader.” Blessed Karl
Leisner, secretly ordained priest on the Third Sunday in Advent 1944 in
the Dachau concentration camp by the imprisoned French bishop of
Clermont-Ferrand (outfitted by his fellow prisoners with the full
pontifical regalia!), died nine months later of illness contracted
during his imprisonment. His First Mass was also his last. Blessed
Bernard Lichtenberg, Provost of the Berlin Cathedral, was imprisoned for
praying publicly for “the sorely tried non-Aryan Christians, the Jews,
those in concentration camps, the victims of bombing and war on both
sides …” He died of maltreatment on the way to the Dachau on 5
November 1943, aged 68. Fr. Alfred Delp, one of seven Jesuits martyred
by the Nazis, was hanged in Berlin on February 2, 1945, for his
participation in the Kreisau Circle, a group of aristocrats and
intellectuals who met to plan a better Germany after Hitler’s defeat.
The infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler (later killed in a bomb attack)
said at Delp’s trial: “National Socialism and Christianity have one
thing in common: we both demand the whole man.”
These victims of Hitler were not more heroic that their fellow
martyrs. But their stories are worth recounting today. One cannot read
their biographies, and especially the farewell letters, without being
moved. One wonders whether they will ever be seen by the tenured
academics and well paid journalists who today make careers, and money,
claiming that in Germany’s darkest hour, nothing was done (or at best
pathetically little) to resist the forces of evil.

2a) Michael F. Feldkamp, “Pius XII. und Deutschland.” (Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 236 p. DM 29,80)
Amid the flood of books defaming Pope Pius XII, and the occasional
defense of the pontiff, it is a pleasure to come upon the work of a
serious historian more interested in honestly examining the historical
record than in advancing a point of view. Michael Feldkamp is a young
historian (born 1962) in Berlin, author of several scholarly works about
relations between Germany and the Holy See from World War I onwards, and
editor of post-World War II documents of the German Foreign Office and
Bundestag. In this brief work, published in paperback, he shows
intimate familiarity with the primary sources and secondary literature
in German, Italian, French, and English.
The contrast between objective scholarship and advocacy is evident when
one compares Feldkamp’s treatment of Pacelli’s dealings with a German
rabbi in 1917 with the portrayal of this incident by John Cornwell in
“Hitler’s Pope”. In September of that year Pacelli, then nuncio to
Bavaria, received a letter from the Munich rabbi Dr. Mose Cossmann
Werner, asking help in getting the Italian customs authorities to
release some palm fronds to be used at the coming Jewish feast of
Tabernacles. Due to wartime export restrictions the palms had been held
up in the railway station at Como. Pacelli passed on the request to
Cardinal Gasparri, his superior in Rome, informing him that he had told
the rabbi that since the Holy See had no diplomatic relations with
Italy, a favorable response by the Italian authorities was unlikely in
the few weeks before the Jewish feast. Pacelli’s letter to Gasparri
also pointed out that the rabbi was asking assistance not merely in a
matter which involved civil rights but cooperation in the celebration of
non-Catholic religious rites – then forbidden by canon law
(“communicatio in sacris”). Gasparri replied that the Holy See could
not act, because of the lack of diplomatic relations with Italy. When
Pacelli explained this to the rabbi, the latter “thanked me warmly for
all that I had done on his behalf.”
Calling this “a diplomatic sleight of hand,” Cornwell says that
Pacelli’s letter to Gasparri “has lain buried in the files of the
Secretary of State until now” – while disclosing in a footnote that he
quotes it from a book published in 1956. Cornwell comments: “Pacelli
rejected a poignant plea of his Jewish brethren that might have brought
spiritual spiritual consolation to many thousands.” He uses the
incident as evidence of Pacelli’s alleged antisemitism. Feldkamp says
that the incident shows that Pacelli “remained a child of his times
unable, even as nuncio, to set himself above canon law.” The fact that
this canonical prohibition has been abrogated long since “affords no
basis for using Pacelli’s actions, which according to the law at that
time were formally correct, as evidence of latent antisemitism.”
Feldkamp devotes a chapter to each of the four periods of Eugenio Pacelli’s
relations with Germany: his work as nuncio, first in Munich then in Berlin
(1917-1929); his activity as papal Secretary of State (1930-39); his role as wartime
pope; and his post-war efforts to restore Germany to a place in the family of
nations. Non-German readers will be especially interested in the chapter
about Pius XII’s wartime role. The pope’s alleged “silence” (Feldkamp
places the word in quotation marks) “was due neither to concern for his
personal safety, nor the desire to maintain strict neutrality in order
to preserve his chance of being a future peacemaker. The pope’s policy
arose from his judgment that a public protest would not only fail to
deter the Nazis, but would provoke even greater atrocities. … The
pope’s decision to remain ‘silent’ cost him dearly.” By limiting
himself to private protests, while initiating rescue efforts behind the
scenes, Pius XII was able “to save thousands of lives.” Moreover,
Feldkamp writes, one must ask how free the wartime pope was to exercise
his office, living as he did in his tiny territory dependent on Hitler’s
ally Mussolini for such basic necessities as food, water, and
electricity – and with the constant threat of kidnapping. Hitler
actually ordered this on Sept. 12, 1943, but was talked out of it by
Feldkamp’s sober narration of the roundup of Roman Jews on October
16,1943, refutes the account given by Susan Zuccotti in “Under his Very
Windows”. Vigorous behind-the-scenes papal protests, unpublicized
because the German ambassador to the Holy See von Weiszäcker warned that
this was the only way to help the victims, resulted in “the deportation
to Auschwitz of somewhat more than 1,000 Jews rather than the 8,000
ordered [by Hitler]. Some 200,000 Italians, many Jews among them, were
hidden in more than 200 extra-territorial religious houses during the
months-long German occupation of Rome. Vatican sponsored organizations
enabled more Jews to emigrate. In addition, during the closing years of
the war the Vatican distributed thousands of passports from the
Argentine and Brazilian governments, and from the Swiss Red Cross.”
Feldkamp’s final chapter is entitled; “Controversy about the Pope’s
‘Silence’.” After narrating the course of the controversy to date,
Feldkamp writes: “The question separating Pius XII’s accusers and
defenders in the future will continue to be whether he should have done
more to publicize his moral condemnation [of Nazi atrocities]; or
whether his exercise of ethical responsibility enabled him to save more
lives. Pius XII chose what he considered the realistic course and left
the door open to negotiation. Nonetheless, he was not silent, as we
have shown. On the contrary, he steadfastly proclaimed Catholic
The same people who today condemn Pius XII for his wartime
“silence”, Feldkamp writes in his concluding paragraph, demand that his
present successor remain silent about other moral questions:
contraception, artificial insemination, and abortion. Feldkamp cites
John Conway’s judgment that making Pius XII responsible for the
Holocaust “ill serves both the victims and the full truth about the
human capacity to act against humanity’s fundamental laws.”
Scapegoating Pius XII, Feldkamp concludes, diverts attention from those
primarily responsible for the Holocaust: the Nazis and those who
cooperated with them.

2b) John L. Allen, Jr. “Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican’s Enforcer of
Faith” (New York: Continuum, 2000. xii + 340 pp. $24.95)
[The review which follows is by John A. Komonchak, holder of the John
C. and Gertrude P. Hubbard Chair of Religious Studies at the Catholic
University of America. A “centrist” theologian in today’s Catholic
theological spectrum, he is the co-editor of the multi-volume
English-language edition of “The History of Vatican II.” The review,
originally published in the Nov. 3, 2000 issue of the lay-edited and
left- leaning American Catholic bi-weekly “Commonweal,” is included
here with permission.]

A French priest got into trouble during the anti-modernist repression
of the early 1900s when he suggested a radical reform of the Roman Curia
that would reduce it to two offices, one congregation for the defense of
the faith and another to defend Catholics against the actions of the
first congregation. One can sympathize, particularly when the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith (CDF) is making unprecedented
claims to near-sovereign authority to deal with a host of problems in
the church today.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger once said that the CDF has the sadly
necessary duty of dealing with “the pathology of faith.” Under his
leadership it appears to have found a good deal of illness, and in
recent years it has been more noted for its warnings and punishments
than for the positive promotion of doctrine that Pope Paul VI proposed
as its chief purpose when at the close of Vatican II he set out new
norms for what until then had been called the Holy Office. These
actions have made the Cardinal the target not only of criticism but of
downright vilification.
John L. Allen tells us in his preface that he was startled by such
actions because they ran counter to the Vatican II Catholicism in which
he, born in 1965, had been raised. He set out to find out what might
have led Joseph Ratzinger, one of the progressive theologians at the
Council, to the series of positions he has expressed both in private
speeches and articles and in the official actions of his office. Allen
wanted his book to avoid the polarization in the contemporary church
that he nicely describes: “Neither side is willing to spend the
intellectual effort to deeply understand the concerns that drive their
opponents, the arguments that have led them to the conclusions they
hold, the alternatives they have considered and rejected.” Rome bureau
chief for the “National Catholic Reporter,” he presumably counts himself
among those journalists who he says, with greater confidence than many
can muster, “instinctively seek ‘all sides’ of a discussion.”
Unfortunately, Allen seems to think that there are only two sides on
most of the issues he raises, and he finds Cardinal Ratzinger regularly
on the wrong one. In his preface he has a few lines about Ratzinger’s
personal kindness and sincerity and near the end of the book almost
three pages on four points on which he thinks the Cardinal worth
listening to. But Allen sees himself as a product and representative of
what he calls, with a reference to Michael Harrington’s famous book,
“the other Catholicism,” inspired and shaped by Vatican II, the
“evolving, socially engaged, compassionate Catholicism that was the
incubator of my faith” and that he thinks Ratzinger is trying to curb.
He contrasts Catholic “reformers” to “restorationists: and to a
“traditionalist camp” in which he includes Ratzinger and Hans Urs von
Balthasar. Theologians are divided into “a minority reflexively loyal
to Rome” and a majority “who are instinctively suspicious of church
authority.” There hardly ever appears to be, in any of these contrasts,
a middle ground.
The same over-simplifying framework controls Allen’s detailed treatment
of Roman actions with regard to liberation theology, women and
homosexuals, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, and moral theology.
Because the issues at stake are most often presented in either-or terms
and the points at debate are reviewed with little depth or nuance, the
drama of the confrontations is reduced to a series of power plays by an
“enforcer” and the consequences are described hyperbolically. The end
of one chapter will give a sense of the whole treatment: “Like
Ratinzger’s crusades against liberation theology, feminism, and gay
rights, the pall that he has cast over ecumenism and interreligious
dialogue has had consequences beyond the borders of academic theology.
It has contributed to making the world a more fractured, and therefore a
more dangerous place.”
These descriptions are preceded by chapters in which Allen reviews
Ratzinger’s youth under Hitler’s regime, from which he believes the
Cardinal has not yet learned all the lessons (“Having seen fascism in
action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political
totalitarianism is ecclesial totalitarianism.”), superficially discusses
the chief theological influences on his thought, explores his role at
Vatican II, his disappointment at the Council’s aftermath, and what
Allen considers the decisive experience of student unrest at the
University of Tübingen in 1968, selectively reviews three of his major
works, and rapidly describes his brief term as Archbishop of Munich
before he was appointed head of the CDF. Much useful information can be
found here, but the treatment is very uneven, inadequately documented,
and marred by historical and bibliographical mistakes.
The most convincing section offers evidence that, contrary to the
Cardinal’s repeated claim, his views on a number of important issues
(collegiality, episcopal conferences, tradition, liturgy, ecumenism,
divorce and remarriage) have changed over the decades. Allen finds
continuity, however, in an enduring Augustinian counterpoising of church
and culture. There is something to this, and its roots lie in an
anthropology and epistemology that profoundly shape the fashion and the
terms in which Ratzinger spontaneously frames an issue. Had this
theological key been explored at greater length and with greater
subtlety, Allen might have been more successful in situating Ratzinger
within the history and variety of twentieth-century Catholic theology
and in analyzing the tensions that divide Catholics. Instead he is
content with the kind of Manichean journalism from which Catholics
suffer so much today.
This is too bad because we could use a good analysis and critique of
the thought and actions of a man who has played so powerful a role in
the church over the last twenty years. Ratzinger’s theology, early and
late, fits within a trajectory of Catholic thought which was one of the
paths of renewal which made Vatican II possible. It was not the only
one, of course, and a much-neglected dynamic of Vatican II was tension
among various groups within the majority. Latent when they had the
common goal of getting rid of the official texts prepared for the
Council, these differences began to be expressed in the last two
sessions of the Council and are visible in the final texts. When the
Council was followed by some developments in the church that few if any
had anticipated, the tensions became divisions and their representatives
now vie over how to interpret Vatican II both as a set of documents and
as an event in the life of the church. For the moment the line
represented by Cardinal Ratzinger is in the ascendancy in Rome and
claims a monopoly on the interpretation of the Council; and he has not
hesitated to use the power of his office to reinforce this line,
sometimes in language and by means that are difficult to reconcile with
either the texts of Vatican II or the communion-inspired methods of
Vatican II. But to show all this would require a more attentive and
critical book than this one.

3) The following article, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the
Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was published on the
front page of the Italian edition of “Osservatore Romano” on 29 Dec.
2000. The English translation was procured by the Sisters of Sion in
Rome, a congregation with a special concern for Jews.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: “The Heritage of Abraham: the Gift of Christmas”

At Christmas we exchange gifts, in order to bring joy to others, and to
share in the joy which the choir of angels announced to the shepherds,
calling to mind once more the gift par excellence which God made to
humanity when he gave us his Son Jesus Christ. But God prepared this
gift over the course of a long history, during which – as St. Irenaeus
says – God became accustomed to being with human beings, and human
beings became accustomed to being in communion with God. This story
begins with the faith of Abraham, the father of those who believe, and
also the father of our faith as Christians – one who, through faith, is
also our father. The story continues with the blessings granted to the
patriarchs, the revelation to Moses, and Israel’s exodus toward the
Promised Land. A new stage opens up with the promise of an unending
kingship – the promise made to David and his descendants. The prophets
in turn interpret this history, calling people to repentance and
conversion, thus preparing human hearts to receive the ultimate gift.
Abraham, father of the people of Israel, father of faith, thus becomes
the source of blessing, for in him “all the families of the earth shall
call themselves blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The task of the Chosen People
is, therefore, to make a gift of their God – the one true God – to every
other people; in reality, as Christians we are the inheritors of their
faith in the one God. Our gratitude, therefore, must be extended to our
Jewish brothers and sisters who, despite the hardships of their own
history, have held on to the faith in this God right up to the present,
and who witness to it in the sight of those peoples who, lacking
knowledge of the one God, “dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death”
(Luke 1:79).

The God of the Jewish Bible (which, together with the New Testament, is
also the Christian Bible) – a God at times infinitely tender, and at
times so severe as to inspire fear – is also the God of Jesus Christ and
of the Apostles. The Church of the second century had to resist the
denial of this God by the Gnostics and, above all, by Marcion, who
created a dichotomy between the New Testament God and the “inferior”
Creator God who was the source of the Old Testament. The Church,
however, has always maintained its faith in a single God, the Creator of
the world, and the author of both Testaments. The awareness of God
contained in the New Testament, which finds its summit in the Johannine
definition that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), does not contradict the
past, but rather serves as a summary of all of salvation history, which
initially had Israel as its central figure. For this reason, the voices
of Moses and the prophets have rung out in the Church’s liturgy from its
very beginnings until today; Israel’s psalter is also the great book of
the Church’s prayer. As a result, the primitive Church did not pit
itself against Israel, but in all simplicity believed itself to be the
legitimate continuation of Israel. The splendid image of chapter 12 of
the book of Revelation – of a woman clothed with the sun, crowned with
twelve stars, pregnant and suffering in the pangs of giving birth – is
Israel, which was “to rule over all nations with an iron scepter” (Psalm
2:9). Nonetheless, this woman is transformed into the new Israel, the
mother of new peoples, and she is personified in Mary, the Mother of
Jesus. The bringing together of these three meanings – Israel, Mary,
the Church – shows how Israel and the Church were, and are, inseparable
for the Christian faith.

We know that every act of giving birth is difficult. Certainly, from
the very beginning, relations between the infant Church and Israel were
often marked by conflict. The Church was considered by her own mother
to be a degenerate daughter, while Christians considered their mother to
be blind and obstinate. Down through the history of Christianity
relations, already strained, deteriorated farther, even giving birth in
many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes, which throughout history have led
to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome
experience of the Shoah was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian
ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic
roots – in the people of Israel – it cannot be denied that a certain
insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can
be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a
few Christians. Perhaps it is precisely because of this latest tragedy
that a new vision of the relationship between the Church and Israel has
been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism,
and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each
other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it
must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to
us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people – the people of
Israel – to whom belong “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants,
the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the
patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is
over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:4-5) – and this not only
in the past, but still today, “for the gifts and call of God are
irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). In the same way, let us pray that he may
grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of
Nazareth, who is their son, and the gift they have made to us. Since we
are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we
follow may converge.

It is evident that, as Christians, our dialogue with the Jews is
situated on a different level than that in which we engage with other
religious. The faith witnessed to by the Jewish Bible (for Christians
the Old Testament) is not merely another religion to us, but is the
foundation of our own faith. Therefore Christians – and today
increasingly in collaboration with their Jewish sisters and brothers –
read and attentively study these books of Sacred Scripture, as a part of
their common heritage. It is true that Islam considers itself as one of
Abraham’s offspring, and has inherited from Jews and Christians this
same God. Muslims, however, follow a different path, and so dialogue
with them calls for different parameters.

To return to the exchange of Christmas gifts with which I began this
meditation: we must first of all recognize that everything we have and
do is a gift of God, which is gained only through humble, sincere
prayer. It is a gift that must be shared between various ethnic groups,
between religions who are seeking a better grasp of the divine mystery,
between nations who seek peace, and between people who wish to build a
society where justice and peace reign. This is the programme sketched
out by the Second Vatican Council for the Church of the future, and we
Catholics ask the Lord to help us to persevere on that path.

NOTE: The 3-day meeting in New York in early May of the International
Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee issued a statement quoting Cardinal
Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with
Jews and a participant in the meeting, as saying that the Vatican
document “Dominus Iesus,” issued by Cardinal Ratzinger’s CDF, is “an
intra- Catholic document about interreligious dialogue addressed to
Catholic theologians … It does not enter into the Jewish-Catholic
dialogue. … [There] is no missionary activity on the part of the
church directed toward converting Jews.”

4) Nuncio Angelo Roncalli’s efforts to assist Jewish victims of the
At the instigation of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, research is
being undertaken on the humanitarian interventions by Nuncio Roncalli
(later Pope John XXIII) on behalf of Jewish victims in the Balkan
countries. The results, catalogued from the later volumes of Actes et
documents du Saint Siège pendant la deuxième guerre mondiale are to be
found on the website: