Leaders of the American Jewish Committee, during a private audience with Pope John Paul II this week, urged him issue a formal encyclical against anti- Semitism.
AJCommittee President Robert Rifkind, in addressing the pope, said such a papal doctrinal statement would “represent an enduring contribution to human welfare and a crowing achievement of your ministry.”
The Jewish delegation and the pope stressed that implementation of recent positive developments in Jewish-Catholic relations remained a challenge for the future. The Jewish leaders also urged the pope to join in common efforts to combat Holocaust revisionism and international terrorism.
“The most important item is implementation [and] making sure that what is said in high [levels] is understood on all levels around the world,” Rifking said at a news conference Monday after the 45-minute audience with the pope. “It will take trust and faith.”
The AJCommittee group met with the pope to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the Council’s Nostra Aetate Declaration, which promoted dialogue with the Jews and rejected the centuries-old position that Jews bore guilt for Christ’s death.
During the audience, Rifkind told the pope that the AJCommittee was “gratified” by the strides made in Jewish-Catholic relations over the past 30 years and praised the pontiff’s personal efforts in combatting anti-Semitism.
But Rifkind expressed “deep concern” over the revival of xenophobia, ethnic hatred and anti-Semitism in Europe since the collapse of communism.
“We welcome the church’s strong stand and the vigorous exercise of your teaching office in actively opposing these manifestations of anti-Semitism,” Rifkind told the pope.
“Indeed, I urge you to consider the publication of an encyclical affirming the church’s opposition to all forms of anti-Semitism,” he said.
Nothing that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and the Holocaust, Rifkind said, “We cannot fail to express our profound alarm at the campaign in some quarters to rewrite history, to falsify facts, to minimize the utter depravity of what was done, to rehabilitate the reputations and polish the records of those who combed the continent of Europe to find the human fuel for the fires of Auschwitz.
“We believe that for the sake of all future generations, Catholics and Jews both must do their utmost to expose and resist the revisionists, the deniers and the falsifiers,” he said.
Rifkind did not, however, bring up any specific case such as the controversial awarding of a Vatican knighthood last year to former Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who has been accused of covering up World War II Nazi involvement.
But he urged the pope to open Vatican wartime archives relating to the Holocaust for joint study by Jewish and Catholic historians.
In a speech to the AJCommittee group, the pope said the meeting offered an opportunity to look back “with gratitude” on the progress made in relations between Jews and Christians, and at the same time “to commit ourselves to facing the challenges of the future with confidence and hope.”
“As we look to the future, there is an urgent need for us to continue building on the foundations already laid,” he said.
“What is more, we must work to make our mutual respect increasingly evident in a world where voices of polarization, confrontation and violence seem all too often to distract attention from the quiet but effective accomplishments being made on behalf of solidarity in the service of justice and peace,” he said.
He said that today, 50 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, “the memory of the Shoah should impel us to renew our commitment to work together in harmony to satisfy the hunger and thirst for justice innate in every human being.”
Rifkind told the news conference that he did not believe that conflicts between Jews and Poles over last month’s ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz would be a serious setback to Jewish-Catholic relations.
“In the relations between Jews and the Catholic Church there are going to be bumps in the road. The capacity to overcome these is the surest sign of our relationship,” he said.
The meeting with John Paul II was the third such meeting for AJCommittee leaders. Previous meetings were in 1985 and 1990.