Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

2000-08-25 Polish bishops conference - Letter on the Occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000

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Letter on the Occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000

Polish Catholic Bishops' Conference

Council for Religious Dialogue

Approved by the 307th  Plenary Meeting of the Conference of Polish Bishops, August 25, 2000

1. Celebrating the Great Jubilee of the Saviour, the Catholic Church in Poland together with the Universal Church rejoices in the salvation of the world and invites everyone to share this joy.

One of the most important obligations inherent in this time is Christian conversion, which requires reconciliation with God and with one another. Reconciliation and brotherhood are particularly to be desired where painful, scandalous division, discord and sometimes dramatic tensions, conflicts and even fighting have taken place. In the context of the preparations for the solemn celebration of the Great Jubilee, the Universal Church has undertaken the arduous task of purification of memory. The Catholic Church in Poland has embraced this process. In the Holy Year which is a time of reconciliation and grace, once again we turn to the past to be able to proclaim ever more effectively and fruitfully the reconciliation between God and humankind obtained for us by Christ, and to shape the present and the future in the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus.

The Bishops of the Catholic Church in Poland feel particularly compelled to take up the matter of purification of memory and reconciliation. Constantly undertaking dialogue, always and with everyone, is a distinctive feature of the Church, indicating that dialogue is not an optional attitude, but an obligation of Christ's followers. It is the mother tongue of humanity. "Before all else, dialogue is a manner of acting, an attitude; a spirit which guides one's conduct. It implies concern, respect and hospitality toward the other. It leaves room for the other person's identity, modes of expression, and values. Dialogue is thus the norm and necessary manner of every form of Christian mission, as well as of every aspect of it, whether one speaks of simple presence and witness, service or direct proclamation. Any sense of mission not permeated by such a spirit of dialogue would go against the demands of true humanity and against the teachings of the Gospel" (Statement of the Secretariat for Non-Christians, 29, Oct.6,1984). It is important for us to be able and to want to bring this mission to reality, not only for us, but, while fully preserving our own identity and with mutual respect, also together with those of other faiths.

2. Our thoughts turn first to the Jewish people, because of the many and profound ties that bind us to them (Nostra Aetate, 4). "The Jewish religion is not 'extrinsic' to us, but in a certain way is 'intrinsic' to our own religion" (John Paul II, Speech in the Synagogue of Rome, April 13, 1986). For years, the Catholic Church in Poland has been making efforts to find ways of reconciliation with the people of Israel, called by God to "an irrevocable vocation," reconciliation with a people who still "are the object of God's love" (Rom, 11;28-29). This faithful love of God is a guarantee and tangible sign of His love for every human being, constantly in need of forgiveness and inner renewal. We Christians also benefit from this because we, too, are unfaithful and our transgressions demand contrition and conversion. Conscious of God's merciful love and of the special grace that we can obtain during the Great Jubilee, we are urged to join in the examination of conscience as the Church in Poland, which, in the person of the Primate, has asked forgiveness for the attitude of those among us who have disdained persons of other denominations or have tolerated anti-Semitism. We believe that the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church in Poland will undertake this particular act individually, that is, in their own conscience, as well as collectively, in their communities of faith.

The drama of the Holocaust has cast a shadow on the history and identity of contemporary Jews. The extermination of several million men, women and children, conceived and implemented by German National Socialists, was executed mainly in occupied Poland, on territory governed by the Germans. From the perspective of the passage of many years we have become even more conscious of that unspeakable drama of the Jewish nation. In connection with this, we once again recall the memorable letter of the Polish Episcopate, issued on the occasion of the 24th anniversary of the Vatican Council's Declaration Nostra Aetate, and read on the 20th of January 1991 in all churches in our homeland. The generation of those who participated in and witnessed the Second World War and the Holocaust is passing away. The memory of what happened then must be preserved in a faithful and dignified way and passed on to future generations. In the spirit of the Jubilee's act of penance, we must realize that along with noble efforts by Poles to rescue many Jewish lives, there are also our sins from that period: indifference or enmity towards Jews. Everything must be done to rebuild and deepen Christian solidarity with the people of Israel so that never and nowhere may a similar tragedy happen again. It is also necessary to effectively overcome all expressions of anti-Jewishness, anti-Judaism (that is, animosity stemming from erroneous interpretations of Church teachings), and anti-Semitism (that is, hatred based an nationalistic or racial motives) that existed and exists among Christians. We expect that anti-Polonism will be fought with equal determination.

Anti-Semitism, like anti-Christian attitudes, is a sin and as such has been rejected along with other forms of racism by the teachings of the Catholic Church. The pilgrimage of the Holy Father John Paul II to the Holy Land in the year of the Great Jubilee has demonstrated and set an example for us of these perspectives and possibilities. Its most profound message allows the hope to revive that both Jews and Christians can courageously embark upon the road marked by John Paul II during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in his address at Yad Vashem: "Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather a shared mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord and took to Abraham as our common father in faith" (cf. We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah). We trust that the sons and daughters of the Church in Poland will undertake, each one, individually and in their own consciences, that particular act of May 20th, 2000 of the Primate of Poland which is supposed to help "to purify and to perceive everything that can be pleasing to God and to prepare the way for reciprocal prayer."

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