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.”
3. An important place in the Jubilee reflection and celebrations is accorded to the dialogue of the Church with other religions. Its significance and role increase in importance in light of the threats brought on by secularization as well as by the persecutions of Christians in some Islamic countries. Facing these, we have been called upon to give credible witness to the One God, Creator of the universe and of every human being. Our most important religious duty is to worship and praise God and to give thanks for all the manifestations of his benevolence, in particular for the possibility of giving witness to Jesus Christ before all peoples.
One of the most urgent signs of co-operation is the practice of the commandment to love one’s neighbor. In a world which is becoming more unified, in which people of different religions increasingly live beside one another, mutual respect, solidarity and co-operation promote the development of the common good. For a Christian, the mystery of the Incarnation, the solemn Jubilee of which we are celebrating, is a matter of fundamental importance. In a speech in Jerusalem on March 23rd, 2000, Pope John Paul II said that the love of one’s neighbor “is based on a conviction that when we love our neighbor we are showing love for God, and when we hurt our neighbor we offend God. This means that religion is the enemy of exclusion and discrimination, of hatred and rivalry, violence and conflict” (Speech given at the Interreligious Meeting, Pontifical Institute of Notre-Dame).
In our relations with believers of different religions in Poland, we wish to make our own the words which the Holy Father addressed to religious leaders in Jerusalem: “Drawing upon the riches of our respective religious traditions, we must spread awareness that today’s problems will not be solved if we remain ignorant of one another and isolated from one another. We are all aware of past misunderstandings and conflicts, and these still weigh heavily upon relationships between Jews, Christians and Muslims. We must do all we can to turn the awareness of past offences and sins into a firm resolve to build a new future in which there will be nothing but respectful and fruitful co-operation between us.” This determination and this task also involve all the faithful of the Catholic Church in Poland. Only an attitude of dialogue allows us to rightly recognize that which is good and holy in the beliefs and lives of other people and fosters a harmonious co-operation for the good of all of us The Jubilee, as expressed in the wish of Pope John Paul II, is a wonderful occasion “for fruitful co-operation in the many areas which unite us; these are unquestionably more numerous than those which divide us” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 16).
4. Dialogue with non-believers remains an urgent and difficult challenge. In this regard the situation in Poland has its own, specific aspects. Conditions and past events typical of former communist-bloc countries still reverberate. For several decades we were subjected to a state-imposed secularization, indoctrination and atheism which has caused tremendous damage in people’s hearts, minds and consciences, not to mention people whom it victimized during the Stalinist period. We will continue to feel the effects for a long time. This does not facilitate our relations with non-believers, many of whom were actively involved in that process. We cannot forget, however, that many non-believers became involved in the defense of human rights, including the right to religious freedom, during the totalitarian period, and that, a long time before our country embarked upon the road of profound sociopolitical transformation, a dialogue between the Church and secular humanists had been initiated.
The publication of the guidelines addressed to pastors, entitled: “Non-believers in the Parish,” in the summer of 1999, was a sign of the Church’s commitment once again to undertake the responsibilities and take up the challenges of this area. The Committee of the Episcopate for Dialogue with Non-believers reiterated in these guidelines that every human being, irrespective of his attitude towards faith, is a child of God. This constitutes the very foundation of his greatness and dignity.
Many people who are non-believers today were once members of the Church. Oftentimes, they had been hurt and they left discouraged, with a feeling of having been wronged by representatives of the Church. Today, in the year of the Great Jubilee, we deeply regret these cases when people of the Church failed to show love towards non-believers. This reminds us of the fact that the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect (CCC, 825).
Let us also remember that believers are the ones who mirror the image of the Church in the eyes of non-believers. The appropriate relationship to non-believers should be based on the Gospel, that is, expressing itself in love, brotherhood and respect. Although the Church totally rejects the atheistic perspective, she nevertheless enters into a dialogue with those who have made a different choice in life, out of a common concern for the world in which believers and non-believers live together. For the Creator Himself out of His great love endowed humankind with freedom.
Both believers and non-believers are called upon to take joint actions for the benefit of local communities, their country and the world. Care for the poor and needy, for social justice and peace, countering social and economic inequalities, concern for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence of people of different cultures and philosophies of life, as well as respect for the dignity of every woman and man, for married life, the family, youth and formation; these are examples of actions which can and should unite and bring closer together Christians and non-believers, in Poland also.
5. We write these words, recalling at the same time Poland’s centuries-old tradition of building tolerance and mutual concern for one another, to which the Church has made her great contribution. Because, however, in the more recent and more distant past, this tradition was subjected to difficult trials, we ask the forgiveness of those who have in whatever circumstances experienced on our part a lack of understanding, rejection and suffering, which stemmed from our forgetting the fundamental truth that we are all children of the One God. In so doing, we are not motivated by political reasons, nor by any other objectives or benefits, but by a profound need of the heart, born of Gospel values. This is our response to the appeal of Pope John Paul II “that in this year of mercy the Church, strong the in holiness which she received from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters” (Bulla Incarnationis Mysterium, 11).We act in the hope that our attitude and gestures will be properly understood and accepted as an appeal addressed to God and to people for reconciliation, for co-operation in all things which unite people of good will.