Address to Jewish Leaders in Warsaw
June 14, 1987
I should like above all to thank you for this meeting which has found its place in my program. It recalls much to my memory, many experiences of my youth—and certainly not of my youth alone. Memories and experiences were good, and then terrible, terrible. Be sure, dear brothers, that the Poles, this Polish Church, is in a spirit of profound solidarity with you when she looks closely at the terrible reality of the extermination–the unconditional extermination–of your nation, an extermination carried out with premeditation. The threat against you was also a threat against us; this latter was not realized to the same extent, because it did not have the time to be realized to the same extent. It was you who suffered this terrible sacrifice of extermination: One might say that you suffered it also on behalf of those who were in the purifying power of suffering. The more atrocious the suffering, the greater the purification. The more painful the experiences, the greater the hope.
I think that today the nation of Israel, perhaps more than ever before, finds itself at the center of the attention of the nations of the world, above all because of this terrible experience, through which you have become a loud warning voice for all humanity, for all nations, all the powers of this world, all systems and every person. More than anyone else, it is precisely you who have become this saving warning. I think that in this sense you continue your particular vocation, showing yourselves to be still the heirs of that election to which God is faithful. This is your mission in the contemporary world before the peoples, the nations, all of humanity, the Church. And in this Church all peoples and nations feel united to you in this mission. Certainly they give great prominence to your nation and its sufferings, its Holocaust, when they wish to speak a warning to individuals and to nations; in your name, the pope, too, lifts up his voice in this warning. The Polish pope has a particular relationship with all this, because, along with you, he has in a certain sense lived all this here, in this land.
This is just one thought that I wished to put before you, thanking you for coming here, thanking you for this meeting. There have been many meetings with your brothers in various countries of the world. I cannot forget the visit last year, the first visit after very many centuries, to the Synagogue of Rome. I value this meeting in Poland in a particular way; it is especially meaningful for me, and I think that it will also be particularly fruitful. It helps me and all the Church to become even more aware of what unites us in the disposition of the Divine Covenant, as your spokesman has just said. This is what unites us in today’s world, in face of the great tasks which this world sets you and the Church in the field of justice and of peace among the nations, in accordance with your biblical word shalom. I thank you for the words spoken in the spirit of faith, of the faith in the same God who is your God and our God: the God of Abraham. I extend the greeting of peace and my respectful sentiments to the few heirs of the great Israelite community which existed in Poland, perhaps the largest community in the world. Shalom!