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Pope John Paul II: A Visionary Remembered

Posted: April 1, 2004

In his tenure as Pope, John Paul II revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations.

It is safe to say that more change for the better took place in his 27 year Papacy than in the nearly 2000 years before.

One small indicator of the change is an ADL program called Bearing Witness, in which Catholic school teachers from around the country spend a week in Washington with ADL, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Holocaust Museum staff to learn about Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, Israel. This and so many other wonderful interfaith activities could never have happened without the remarkable contributions of the Pope who opened so many Catholics to a whole new way of looking at Jews.

The Pope did this by the way he wrote and spoke about the evil of anti-Semitism. He did this by visiting the Rome synagogue, the first Pope to do so. He did it by the opening ten years ago of full relations with the State of Israel and then capped it off with his historic visit to Israel, including a moving stop at the Western wall. He did it by issuing a report on the Holocaust and by raising questions of Christian responsibility.

And in some ways most important, he rejected the destructive concept of supersessionism, the word describing the delegitimization of Judaism which had been superseded by Christianity. This historic delegitimization of Israel, based on the Jewish rejection of Jesus, became the basis of the milennia-old demonization of the Jewish people and the concomitant anti-Semitism. Now, said the Pope, Judaism is recognized as a sister religion of Christianity with intrinsic and eternal value of its own.

The consequences of this remarkable revolution from the top of the Catholic Church have been significant. It doesn't mean that all problems are resolved, far from it. Issues arise all the time, whether it is the baptized Jewish children during World War II who were never returned to their Jewish roots; or the beatification of Pope Pius XII; or Vatican positions on Israeli policy.

But because of the vision, because of the understanding of the suffering associated with Catholic doctrine toward Jews, that the Pope possessed, the prism through which problems are seen is completely different.

For all of us who appreciate the Pope's contributions the challenge is to make sure that his vision will continue to resonate and to deepen. That would be the best tribute to this exceptional religious leader.

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2004 Anti-Defamation League