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Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People Essay

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Updated: Mar 11th, 2020

Introduction

Hostilities and aggression characterize the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. The Jewish community has accused the Catholic Church of treating its members as second-class citizens (Cline 1). In some historical excerpts, members of the Jewish community were sometimes required to wear unique symbols to distinguish them from the rest of the Christian community.

This requirement was especially more rampant at the height of the Nazi rule. Pope John Paul II is a high-ranking Catholic figure that has tried to mend the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. This paper examines two actions made by the Pope in mending the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community.

More specifically, this paper examines the Pope’s visit to Israel (in 2000) and his 1986 visit to Rome as notable events that highlight his efforts to repair the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community.

March 2000 visit

The March 2000 visit to St. Peters is perhaps the most publicly known even that highlighted the Pope’s efforts to repair the bad relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. In this visit, the Pope pleaded for forgiveness from God and the Jewish community for the wrongs that the Catholic Church had committed to the Jewish community (and the struggles that the Jewish community experienced for their religious inclination) (Ofek 27).

During this visit, the Pope said that he took personal responsibility for all the transgressions that the Jewish community experienced under the command of the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church (Ofek 27). The public apology by the Pope aimed to address the negative relations that characterized the Catholic Church and the Jewish community.

More so, the Pope’s visit aimed to address the common disquiet within the Jewish community that the Catholic Church oppressed the Jewish community (so that it could preserve its dominance). Notably, the bad relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community traced to the actions of Pius XIII (Cline 3). Some people say Pius XII inclined towards pleasing the Nazis so that he could retain the position of the Catholic Church.

Such actions from the Catholic Church elicited some disquiet within the Jewish community about the role of the Catholic Church in their religious “persecution” (Cline 3). Pope John Paul II strived to repair this damage. However, some sections of the Catholic Church did not openly welcome the Pope’s actions.

Despite these objections, the Pope’s March 2000 visit made significant strides in mending the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. A notable impact of the Pope’s visit was his success in pleasing traditionalists and conservatives of the Catholic Church (Cline 3).

Pope’s 1986 Visit to a Synagogue in Rome

In a 1986 visit to Rome, Pope John Paul II made a similar effort to solve the nearly 2000-year strife between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community by condemning the genocide that killed millions of Jews (Dionne 6). During the visit, the Pope referred to the Jewish community as the “elder brothers” (Dionne 6). This visit was among the first papal visit from the Catholic Church to a synagogue.

It was also among the first such attempts by a sitting pope to condemn anti-Semitism sentiments. The Pope’s visit to the Rome synagogue made some tremendous strides in improving the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. Indeed, the Chief Rabbi (Elio Toaff) of the Jewish community saw the Pope’s action as a solid effort towards mending the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community.

The Pope’s action was a “turning point in the policy of the Catholic Church” (Dionne 6). Moreover, the Chief Rabbi said, ”the heart opens itself to the hope that the misfortunes of the past may be replaced by fruitful dialogue” (Dionne 6). Through such sentiments, it is safe to say the Pope’s visit to the synagogue helped to repair the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community (Bard 3).

However, like his predecessors, the Pope received significant criticisms of some pundits who believe that the Pope could have done more to reconcile the Jewish and the Catholic Church. Certainly, some critics say that not all actions made by the Pope proved to be sympathetic to the plight of the Jews (and by extension), the Christian community.

For example, Dionne (6) says the Pope was still overly analytical and suspicious about the actions of Israel. Moreover, the same critics say, the pope was similarly unusually silent about the suffering that the Christian faithful experienced under Arab and Muslim oppression (Dionne 6). Comprehensively, these dynamics show that albeit the Pope made significant strides in reconciling the Jewish and Catholic communities, he still had his flaws.

Conclusion

Throughout the two visits that the Pope made to reconcile the Jewish community and the Catholic Church, the Pope’s efforts aimed to bury the ignorance, prejudice, and stereotypes that characterized the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. Rightfully, he managed to do so.

Indeed, through his successes in reconciling the Jewish community and the Catholic Church, few people may deny the fact that Pope John Paul II did more work (compared to other modern Catholic Popes) to mend the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. Consequently, the way historians judge the Pope’s actions in reconciling Jews and Catholic is open to interpretation.

Works Cited

Bard, Mitchell. Pope John Paul II and the Jews. Web. 1 March. 2013. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/johnpaul.html>.

Cline, Austin. Pope John Paul II, Catholicism, and the Jews. Web. 1 March. 2013. <http://atheism.about.com/od/popejohnpaulii/a/antisemitism.htm>.

Dionne, James. Pope Speaks in Rome Synagogue, in the First Such Visit on Record. Web. 1 March. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/1986/04/14/international/europe/14POPE.html>.

Ofek, Amir. Milestones in Israel Holy-See Relations 1965-2005, New York: Consulate General of Israel in New York, 2005. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, March 11). Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/pope-john-paul-ii-and-the-jewish-people/

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"Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People." IvyPanda, 11 Mar. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/pope-john-paul-ii-and-the-jewish-people/.

1. IvyPanda. "Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People." March 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pope-john-paul-ii-and-the-jewish-people/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People." March 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pope-john-paul-ii-and-the-jewish-people/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People'. 11 March.

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