Your kind invitation to speak at this 25th Annual National Leadership Conference Yom HaShoah Program is one more example of long-standing and fruitful dialogue and collaboration between ADL and other Jewish organizations with the Catholic Bishops of the United States and the Church in our country. It is also, I truly believe, a sign of the affection and respect that we have developed for each other over the last twenty-five years.
I would like to begin by mentioning some of the areas of our collaboration in which I truly take great pride and satisfaction.
The Archdiocese of Washington U.S. Holocaust Museum Program for Catholic Teachers is something that I would like to cite right at the very beginning. Thanks to the wonderful efforts of my dear friend and brother, David Friedman, this program has been going on for many years and it has made a real impact on the teaching in our Catholic schools throughout this archdiocese. Because of the excellence of the program, it has spread to many other dioceses around the country and I regard that as a very good thing and a substantial contribution to our mutual understanding and affection. David has truly been a wonderful partner in this project and I am so grateful to my beloved predecessor, Cardinal Hickey, for having had the vision to work with David on this most important achievement.
Secondly, I would like to call your attention to the many institutes of Jewish-Christian studies which are developing in the United States. Many of them are attached to Catholic universities. In 1965 there was just one - at Seton Hall University - of which I was so proud while serving as Archbishop of Newark. Today there are over two dozen of these centers and they have organized themselves into a "Center of Centers for Jewish-Christian Understanding" with member institutes from European countries as well. At the Gregorian University in Rome, the Cardinal Bea Center for Advanced Jewish and Jewish-Christian Studies has been established and this, too, will have a tremendous influence on the future as future generations of seminarians studying for the priesthood from all over the world will be exposed to a better, clearer and more accurate understanding of the roots of Catholicism in our Jewish tradition.
Thirdly, on a very personal note, I want to thank the leadership of the ADL and other Jewish organizations for their absolutely essential help in the issue of the mosque at Nazareth. It may have seemed a small issue to those who were not aware of its great significance to the Christian communities in the Holy Land, but it was a subject which could have created tremendous antagonism and conflict for many years. It could not have been resolved favorably without the help of the leaders of the ADL and I am personally so very grateful to you.
Finally, as we look at the development of relations between our two faith communities, I need to mention the enormous assistance that we have received from you in encouraging the government of Israel to reject an extremely negative restrictive policy that prevented many Church workers from receiving work visas. Because of your wise and fraternal intervention, the Israeli government has committed to return to the policy of previous decades on visas for Church workers. May I add that your continued help with issues of humanitarian access for groups like Catholic Relief Services, who are trying to serve the most vulnerable people in that area, will also be invaluable to us as we try to care for the poor, whoever and wherever they are.
I am very moved by your tribute to the Righteous. Truly they deserve our gratitude and our remembrance as islands of light in a continent then overwhelmed by the darkness of evil. Each of them is a crucial model for future generations of Christians. We Catholics know that as we honor them, we acknowledge as well the failures and sins of so many of our fellow Catholics in Europe in those dark days, as well as the anti-Jewish teachings of some Church leaders and thinkers over the centuries which rendered dull the consciences of many Christians when Nazi anti-Semitism became the official policy of the Third Reich. His Holiness Pope John Paul II, in a very courageous and wonderful way, has built on his own extraordinary lifelong personal relationships with so many members of the Jewish community and through that, and his commitment to Judeo-Christian relations, has led our generation of Catholics to repent before God for the sin of anti-Semitism, even as he himself did in Jerusalem, and in a special way at the memorial to the Holocaust there and at the Wailing Wall.
I believe that there are important lessons that can be learned from the rescuers. In the first place, a sense of morality was deeply implanted in the fiber of their being, whether or not they were sophisticated, well-educated or just ordinary people. The rescuers frequently had to make life and death decisions not only for themselves, but for their families, on very short notice. The rescuers "only did what was right," exhibiting a deep commitment to the good in spite of all the risks.
Secondly, these righteous people shared a sense that life has ultimate meaning beyond the present. While their understanding of that meaning may have varied, their experience reminds us to place our lives in a wider context of human nature and inter-relatedness. For Christians and Jews this means always being open to God.
Finally, many of the righteous had prior acquaintances with Jewish people, though not necessarily with the people they actually rescued. From this we learn the importance of building bonds across religious, racial and ethnic lines. Everything we do in study, in conversation, in mutual collaboration and support builds up this relationship and builds up our love and understanding of each other as members of the same family and as brothers and sisters in the expression of our common faith in the one true God.
I want to talk for a moment about anti-Semitism and especially the rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric and activity in Europe. Even though it appears that the increase in anti-Semitic violence in France is due mainly to the activities of Arab youths and not to traditional or Catholic sources, I want to express my very deep concern about it and my support to do anything possible to correct this grave and totally intolerable situation. Indeed, a year ago, the Catholic bishops of France spoke out strongly against anti-Semitism during the French elections. Their voice was very important because the politicians were mainly silent on this question. Let me quote from their statement.
"To strike a community, whomever it is, in its religious sensibilities and faith is a particularly grave act which affects our democratic life with full force. In condemning these attacks with the greatest firmness, the Catholic Church in France expresses its profound sympathy and solidarity with the Jewish communities."
I wanted to quote this for you so that you would be aware that any comparison between the current situation and what may have so sadly happened in the 1930s has no basis and should be resisted as unhelpful to analysis.
Let me talk for a moment on a very delicate theme, but since we are family I want to speak to it clearly. I want to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I begin by underlining the point that within the Church no Conference of Catholic Bishops has had such close ties to the Jewish community as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Within the United States, few organizations are such clear and unequivocal supporters of the State of Israel as well as strong supporters of a viable Palestinian State. The policy of the Church is to be at once pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, affirming the essential rights and needs of both.
The Holy See, as you know, has entered into agreements with both the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. What is distinct in the Fundamental Agreement with Israel is in the prologue, where the Catholic Church acknowledges the theological significance of its relationship with the State of Israel as a part of its larger, doctrinally pregnant dialogue seeking reconciliation with God's people Israel.
I pray - and I believe that President Bush has already affirmed this - that the end of a terrible Iraqi regime will soon lead to real progress toward a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The status quo is not tenable. The deadly cycle of violence must be ended. One of the tragedies of the current crisis is that it has so damaged prospects for the development of new attitudes of understanding and mutual respect, without which neither side will be able to achieve their legitimate goals.
Israelis rightly see the failure of some Palestinians to demonstrate full respect for Israel's right to exist and to flourish within secure borders as a fundamental cause of the conflict. As the United States bishops have said over and over again, Palestinian attacks on innocent civilians cannot be tolerated both because they are morally indefensible and because they undermine the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. Palestinian leaders must clearly and unequivocally renounce terrorist violence and terrorist acts against innocent civilians and must show the Israeli people that they are fully committed to prepare their people to live in peace with Israel.
Palestinians see the occupation as a central underlying cause of the present crisis. This becomes unfortunately more problematic when it is cemented by the growth and expansion of settlements and is maintained by force and marked by daily indignities, abuse and violence. As difficult as it may be, we are convinced that both Israelis and Palestinians are called to be partners in an historic peace. Despite the current crisis, the elements of a just and lasting peace remain the same: real security for the State of Israel, a viable state for Palestinians, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, and implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions and other provisions of international law. This has been our consistent Catholic bishops' position over the past many years and is the position of the Catholic community.
Another issue of grave concern to us is that of the plight of the Christians in the Holy Land. The Christians there are often forgotten. You remember the standoff last spring at the Church of the Nativity, the second holiest site for Christians. This exemplified how precarious is the position in which they live. In some ways they are caught in the middle, between Islamic extremism and Israeli security policy. Because of this, they have suffered much during the current crisis. As more and more Christians emigrate and leave that beautiful country, we are very concerned that what we call the Holy Land will become merely a museum without any living Christian presence in the land of Jesus' birth, ministry and death.
In his Easter message just last week, Pope John Paul II expressed again as he has in many times, his "profound grief" at the violence and bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians and appealed for "an end to the chain of hatred and terrorism." There is need for a new generation of righteous persons - Christian, Jewish and Muslim - in the Middle East who have the moral fiber, the faith in God, and a commitment to the basic dignity of all people. These are the only ones who can rescue that strife-torn region from its chain of hatred and terrorism.
Together, dear sisters and brothers of the Jewish community, we have made great progress. We are still learning and still developing the bonds of friendship and collaboration and affection which must be present as we continue to grow in our common service of humanity and in our mutual esteem and respect for one another. I am happy that I am living in these times when I know that I can reach out to our brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith and speak as a brother who loves them, who respects them and who understands so very deeply their concerns and their hopes and dreams. We share so very much together. The Catholic Church today, under the wise and courageous leadership of Pope John Paul II, has reached out to our brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith in ways that have been unimaginable a couple of generations ago. The Jewish community in turn has responded as it always does, with deep understanding, generosity and love.
On a personal note, I am so grateful for dear friends from every part of American Judaism who have been great guides, great examples and great benefactors of so many of the projects that we desire to do together. The Jewish presence in our country has gifted us with so many great leaders, philanthropists, scholars, and wonderful fathers and mothers. I say from my heart how grateful I am for this enormous contribution to the life of these United States. The Catholic community has been enriched by our friendship with you and I personally have been inspired by the lives, the teaching and the courageous witness of so many. I pray that we will continue to grow in friendship, in understanding and in love. This world needs us to be together in seeking for justice and peace and in laying the foundations for a life of dignity and value for all our brothers and sisters in God's one human family. The Washington Post this morning cited a few sentences from the moving Diary of Anne Frank. This young Jewish girl's words call us again to reach beyond ourselves and to live for others - something which so many of you in this room do so well. May I just quote a small part of their citation. Anne writes,
"Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness. If we are to start by adding to that goodness instead of stifling it, by giving poor people the feeling that they too are human beings, we wouldn't necessarily have to give money or material things, since not everybody has them to give.
If you follow this advice, within a few generations people will never have to feel sorry for poor little beggar children again, because there won't be any."
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity of addressing you this evening. May God bless us all and keep us together. Thank you very much.