Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

1988-10-20 German speaking bishops - Accepting The Burden Of History

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4. Preaching and Teaching - To Speak Correctly About Jews And Judaism

With the Declaration Nostra Aetate, Vatican II has expressly brought to mind the bond "by which the people of the New Covenant is spiritually united with the seed of Abraham". In order to bring about a genuine dialogue between Christians and Jews, the Council has emphasized the importance of "mutual knowledge and esteem". The Guidelines of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews concretize this concern and urge Christians to learn "by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience". In this way not only individual areas of information and instruction are addressed, but "all levels of Christian doctrine and education". The range of information-media thus envisaged extends from catechetical writings and historical representations to the "media of mass-communication (press, radio, film, television)". A few years ago the same Commission took up again the ideas of the Guidelines and presented - with regard to the contents - "Instructions for a correct presentation of Jews and Judaism in the Preaching and Teaching of the Catholic Church".
Corresponding to these documents and efforts on a world-wide level there are numerous initiatives and activities in various local churches which aim at a proper presentation and appreciation of Jews and Judaism within preaching. The above-mentioned statements of the three Bishops' Conferences fit within this framework just as much as the proclamations of the discussion group "Jews and Christains" at the Central Committee of the German Catholics. These incentives and aids are already producing their first fruits. This issue assumes a new value in the formation of priests, in religious education and in catechesis, during conferences of Catholic academies and educational institutions, or in Church publications. We should not forget to mention the impressive German Catholics' Day (Katholiken Tage), during which, with a great participation of young people, the Christian Jewish dialogue and the joint prayer have formed a special focal point for quite some time. Moreover, there are the two Vienna conferences entitled "Shalom", because in Austria these have greatly contributed in helping the representatives of the "Israelite Cult Community" (Kultusgemeinde) to prepare their on-going dialogue. During the Dresden Catholics' Meeting, 1987, as well, the question of the Christian-Jewish dialogue played an essential role. This is no reason for complacency. It gives courage, however, to continue and not to slacken in our efforts. Particularly encouraging is the fact that a part of these initiatives is also carried by the Jews. We owe them grateful recognition.

5. Efforts For Reconciliation

During the Third Reich great wrong has been inflicted on numerous peoples and groups in the name of Germany. In 1945 it was rather doubtful whether it would be possible once more to succeed in establishing a relationship with our neighbours, which was born out of trust and mutual esteem. And yet, the unbelievable has happened. The victims themselves have decisively contributed to this - as the late Cardinal Hoffner commented.10
To attain a reconciliation with the Jews all over the world is a still greater task which is far from being accomplished. The hurts are deep. The Jews have been threatened with the "Final Solution", total annihilation. The sacrifices of the Jews in the "Shoah" are immeasurable. And yet we have constantly to make every effort to obtain a reconciliation. In this effort the common religious and cultural roots of Jews and Christians can form a particular point of contact and can contribute to a mutual openness. Central, however, is personal encounter. In this sense, all initiatives which allow immediate contacts, everything that makes dialogue possible and all that widens our horizon across the frontiers of peoples, faiths, and social groupings, deserve ongoing support. Much has been done. Much is still to be done. We place great hopes in the openness and readiness for mutual understanding of the youth, which, in future, will have to build up the relationship between Jews and Christians. It may succeed, in causing the common memory to bring forth a new togetherness and a mutual responsibility for the shaping of the future. The will to openness and readiness for dialogue is necessary on both sides. But just as we MAY not forget, we must accept that many Jews CANNOT forget. Many of those, who themselves had to suffer under the persecutions, but also many of the succeeding generation cannot yet show this openness. Their hurt is too deep. We have to meet them with respect. Reconciliation can neither be forced nor bought, but only be achieved through a long process of walking towards one another.

6. Common Tasks In The World

During the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Synagogue of Rome, Chief Rabbi Toaff said, "We cannot... forget the past. However, full of confidence and hope, we want to mark today the beginning of a new era of history which promises to be fruitful through joint action, which eventually, in the spirit of partnership, of equality and of mutual respect, may profit the whole of humanity". This consciousness of mutuality among Christians and Jews, but also among all human beings of good-will grew under national socialist affliction. It broke away from a pattern of thinking and acting which envisaged, above all, the interests of one's own group - whether political party, trade union or church - and which left little space for a mutual sense of responsibility. Yet, at the same time, the conditions for a mutual engagement of Jews and Christians for and with one another are given in a special manner: both respect the dignity of human beings and acknowledge a task in the human fashioning of the world, because they believe in the creative act of God guaranteed in the Book of Genesis. Therefore both ought determinedly to take their part in ensuring that this consciousness of mutuality is not buried again and that a new "thinking in categories" cannot once more gain a footing in the state and in society.
The areas for mutual engagement of Jews and Christians in the shaping of the world are manifold and also different from one country to another: in the forefront are the efforts in promoting human dignity, the ethical consolidation of the ordering of State and society and the guaranteeing of human rights. In spite of all public protestations and international agreements, human rights are still endangered worldwide - be it for racial, religious, social or political reasons. Especially endangered is the first right of man, the right of life. This is not only true of regions of special oppression and crisis, but also for ourselves, where every year hundreds of thousands of children are killed in their mothers' wombs. The experiences of history teach us that all barriers are breaking where the life of the individual is no longer respected. "Nobody's life is safe unless it is stated incontestably: 'You shall not kill'" (Fulder Bishops' Conference, 1942).
However, Christians and Jews should also work together if it is a question of fighting against any unjustified disadvantage and discrimination of individuals or of whole groups for ideological, religious or other reasons. Religious freedom and freedom of conscience are precious gifts. Therefore Christians and Jews ought to support a just social order, which is marked by mutual respect and tolerance, which safeguards everybody's inalienable rights and which does not give room to antisemitism or any other ideology that holds human beings in contempt. In this way Christians and Jews are called in a special manner to a service of justice and peace.
Furthermore, they are called to a service of peace in the world, the dangers of which are well known to us. The first step towards this is also here to recognize the human being in the other and neither to question his right to life nor his opportunities for development. Just as within a state, so also among nations, the word holds true: "justice creates peace" (Is 32:17) - the word which - referring to the motto of Pope Pius XII - stands above the present efforts of the Christian churches to work for peace, justice and the preservation of creation.
And finally, our engagement for the preservation of creation is demanded. The way our natural surroundings are threatened by technical civilization is a reminder for us of the task to deal responsibly and competently with creation, not to pillage the treasure of the earth irresponsibly and to consider the consequences of our actions for ourselves and the successive generations. We ought to impress upon our minds and that of others that we are all "creatures", not masters of this world.
For each one of us and for all of us together a vast scope of tasks presents itself here, where what is uniting carries more weight than what divides. History shows us the necessity of acting creatively in good time. In proportion to this manner of acting will grow - thus, we hope - not only the insight into the mutuality of Jews and Christians, but also into the mutuality of all people of good will.
"Reconciliation comes about through remembering" (Martin Buber). One cannot create this reconciliation with one's own hands; it is basically God's work. As a conclusion to this statement we would like to bring in prayer before the Lord of history those events, which are the cause of our remembrance. Only from there can strength and courage flow towards us on the difficult path to reconciliation.

1. L'Osservatore Romano, German edition of July 1st, 1988. The texts related to the Christian-Jewish dialogue are collected in the volume, The Church and Judaism. Documents from 1945 to 1985, Paderborn, Munich 1988, edited by Rolf Rendtorff and Hans Hermann Henrix. Individual references are therefore given only for those texts that are not included in this volume. As to the historic sources, reference is made to the Documents of the German Bishops on the Situation of the Church 19331945, Volumes 1-6, Mainz 1968-1985, published by Bernhard Stasiewski and then by Ludwig Volk. Individual references are given here as well only for those sources, which are not printed in this series.
2. Printed in Dieter Albrecht (revised), Exchange of Diplomatic Notes Between the Holy See and the Government of the German Reich, Volume 1, Mainz 1965, pp. 402-443.
3. Annotation from Rudolf Lill, Catholicism After 1848, in Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, Siegfried von Kortzfleisch (Publ.), Church and Synagogue. A Handbook on the History of Christians and Jews. Presentation and Sources, Volume 2, Stuttgart 1970, p. 366.
4. Helmut Witetschek, The Church's Position in Bavaria According to the President's Reports, 1933-1943, Volume 1; Administrative District of upper Bavaria, Mainz 1966, p. 300.
5. Ludwig Volk (Revised): Documents of Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber 19171945, Volume 2, Mainz 1978, p. 604.
6. Statement of the German Bishops of August 27th, 1979, on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, in Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference (ed.), Remembrance and Responsibility, Working Aids 30, (Bonn 1983).
7. The Christian in the Peril of the Era, Paderborn 1949, p. 216.
8. The German Bishops' Statement on the Church's Attitude to Judaism, of April 28, 1980, in Rendtorff/Henrix, pp. 260-280.
Bishops' Conference of Austria/Pastoral Commission of Austria, The Christians and Judaism, April 1982, in Rendtorff/Henrix, pp. 205-215.
Pastoral Letter of the Berlin Bishops' Conference on the 50th Anniversary of the Reich's Night of Pogrom (Kristallnacht), November 1988.
9. Dialogue group Jews and Christians, at the Central Committee of German Catholics; working paper: Theological Emphases of the Jewish-Christian Dialogue, of May 8th, 1979, in Rendtorff/Henrix, pp. 252-260.
After 50 Years - How to Talk of Guilt, Sorrow and Reconciliation?- Statement of the dialogue group Jews and Christians of the Central Committee of German Catholics, 50 years after the Reich's Night of Pogroms (Kristallnacht) in Reports and Documents 68, pp. 30-46. (see SIDIC XXI:3 1988 p. 26)
The Central Committee of German Catholics, is the agency recognized by the German Bishops' Conference, for the coordinating of the efforts of the lay-apostolate and for the promotion of apostolic activity of the Church in the Federal Republic of Germany and in West Berlin.
Membership consists mainly of representatives of the diocesan council and of the central associations and organizations.
10. Joseph Cardinal Hbffner, Sermon in the Ecumenical Service in Cologne Cathedral, 8 May 1985, in Press and Information Office of the Government of the Federal Republic (Ed.), Remembrance, Grief and Reconciliation. Addresses and Statements on the Occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the end of the war.
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