In Israel, the center of Judaism, and in Rome, the seat of the Catholic Church, reaction to Pope John Paul II’s exchange with American Jewish officials in Miami Friday morning was confined largely to the media.
There was no official comment in Jerusalem where the consensus seems to be that the Miami encounter was yet another event in the continuing Jewish-Catholic dialogue, which in itself produced no changes, particularly with respect to the issue of Vatican recognition of the Jewish State. According to Dr. Yitzhak Minervi, one of Israel’s foremost authorities on Israel-Vatican relations, there was no breakthrough. In an interview published in Haaretz Sunday, Minervi suggested that the Pope’s meeting with the Jewish delegation at the very start of his American tour was aimed at improving the Vatican’s image in American eyes, since it was tarnished after his meeting last June with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim.
In Rome, there was a notable contrast between the general press and the official Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano, handling of the Pope’s meeting with the Jewish leaders. The latter devoted an entire page to the event, with liberal quotes from the speech by Rabbi Mordecai Waxman who was selected to speak for the American Jewish community.
The general press carried such headlines as “Hard Confrontation,” “Harsh Dialogue,” and “Polemics Between the Pope and Jews in the U.S.” Some correspondents saw the Pope’s reference to the rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland as an expression of the real “pre-condition” for Vatican recognition of Israel.
A headline in Osservatore Romano read, “By Meditating On The Terrible Suffering of the Shoah, the Church Increasingly Recognizes its Ties With Jews.” The paper explained that the American Jewish community is the largest in the world and the Catholic-Jewish dialogue, especially since Vatican Council II, “has become intense and fruitful.”
According to the Vatican organ, “It is a dialogue of faith whose aims are the search for greater fidelity to the respective paths of believers in a common commitment of witness to the holy name of God and a mission of peace for mankind. On a local level, the cooperation in religious and educational fields is very fruitful, for example, prayer texts are produced together, without however creating erroneous confusions.”
Two excerpts of the Pope’s speech were set off in boxes: “The differences in faith must not become motives for discord but rather open the path for reconciliation” and “History will reveal even more intensely how Pius XII worked in favor of the Jewish people during the second World War.” Most of Rabbi Waxman’s speech was published in Italian translation.
Dr. Minervi, author of the standard work, “The Vatican, The Holy Land and Zionism”, observed in his interview that “The Pope repeated what he had said before. For instance, what he had to say Friday about the Palestinians, he said at his Otranto address in 1980, but he added at that time that the Palestinians lost their homeland because of the establishment of Israel,” Minervi noted. “He has also mentioned Jewish rights to a homeland several times in the past, such as in his papal letter on Jerusalem in 1984, when he also said that the Palestinians should also be granted their rights.”
According to Minervi, there are no theological reasons why the Vatican should not recognize Israel. Non-recognition now is the result of world and regional politics, not religious questions, he said. The Jerusalem Post said in an editorial Sunday that the significance of the Miami meeting was limited. “It was an event which broke no new ground, but by its very occurrence signalled a pragmatic interest in quiet co-existence,” the paper said. The Post added, “It is well, therefore, for Israel and the Jewish people, too, to reduce expectations. So the Vatican is not yet ready to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. So what?…”