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National Jewish Public Affairs Council

Hyatt Regency Hotel, Baltimore

Thank you, Mr. Mel Shralow, for your gracious words of introduction. I shall tell Rabbi Zaiman of your kindness. Also, I want to acknowledge the goodness of Larry Rudin for personally extending the invitation for me to speak today. Rabbi Zaiman and Larry were part of a traveling dialogue to Jerusalem, Israel and some of the Territory under the Palestinian Authority two years ago. We shared in visits to each other's holy places, in briefings from local authorities and in growth in mutual understanding of what is important to each one of us.

We Catholics attended synagogue services on the Sabbath and on the Feast of Purim. Our Jewish friends assisted at our daily celebration of the Eucharist, at which we exchanged a sign of peace, of shalom. In all we spent about an equal amount of time visiting each other’s significant shrines and services.

At Capernaum in Galilee an especially poignant moment came when we met on the site of the second century synagogue. Dr. Eugene Fisher, of our Bishops’ staff in Washington, recalled that it was here, nearly two millennia earlier, that Jesus had taught in the synagogue of that day. Our coming meant that successors of the Apostles were in peaceful dialogue with successors of the scribes and Pharisees who were interlocutors of Jesus.

That region is much in the news always. I wish to say a word about most recent developments in the light of local, Maryland history. Our state had its roots in the only colony settled from England under Catholic leadership. The colonists came in 1634 with the understanding that, under the Calverts, Catholics and others could freely practice their religious faith according to the dictates of the individual conscience. In Acts of Toleration enacted in 1639 and in 1649 we have the first instance in the English-speaking world of the beginning of protected religious freedom as we know it. It was not perfect, because it embraced only the people then in the colony, who were Christians. But it did honor the faith of the Protestants who comprised a significant percentage of the early settlers. In the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution (1688) the English crown replaced the Calverts and sent Royal Governors to enforce in Maryland the English penal laws against Catholics. All the Catholic churches in the colony were razed to the ground, and Mass could not be celebrated publicly. Priests could not hold property and often were arrested for little cause, and the Catholic laity could not hold public office or vote in elections. They paid double taxes. Thus, when the American Revolution came along, the Catholic leadership in Maryland gave strong support to the movement. Father John Carroll, who was to become the first bishop in our country, and his cousin Charles Carroll of Carrollton, joined Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase as emissaries of the Continental Congress to Canada. They tried in vain to persuade the predominantly Catholic Province of Quebec to join in the quest for independence from England.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton signed the Declaration of Independence with a large, boldly written signature to assert as strongly as possible his commitment to the cause. Back in Maryland Charles Carroll, educated as an attorney in England but forbidden to practice law because of his faith, was invited to draft the State Constitution of Maryland. He wrote what stands to this day as perhaps the most forceful assertion of religious freedom in any legal document anywhere. And he ardently promoted the adoption of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.

Although Catholics, like the Jewish immigrants after them, continued to suffer many disabilities and encounter much prejudice, the protection afforded by the Constitution helped our people, as it helped yours, to flourish religiously in ways unique in the world. When my distinguished predecessor, Cardinal James Gibbons, went to Rome in 1887 to receive the Cardinal’s red hat, he spoke with pride of the liberty all Americans enjoyed in the practice of religious faith and in the pursuit of individual destinies. He spoke these prophetic words: "There are indeed grave social problems which are engaging the earnest attention of the citizens of the United States. But I have no doubt that, with God’s blessings, these problems will be solved without violence, or revolution, or injury to individual right." (Ellis, Life of Gibbons, I, p. 309)

Gibbon’s position, and that of our leadership in the United States, was not always welcome in some Catholic circles in Europe. When the Second Vatican Council came in the early 1960s, the bishops of the United States were principal movers in promoting the Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore and others from the States supported the vision of Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., who taught at the Jesuit seminary in Woodstock, Maryland. On December 7, 1965 the Council voted its approval, 2308 to 70, of the Declaration. Subsequently, agreements were reached with a number of countries where Catholics made up the majority of citizens, as in Spain and Latin America, to assure freedom of all faith groups to practice their faith, where there had been restrictions before.

Against this background, I turn to questions raised last week by the Agreement between the Holy See and the PLO. An official commentary published the other day in L’Osservatore Romano recalls an address of Pope John Paul II in 1993 calling for true religious freedom throughout the Middle East and appealing to the teaching of our Second Vatican Council. In that region he called on the Christian communities to realize that, "although they live in a region in which there are undertakings inspired by different religious beliefs, . . .they should recognize that the dignity of the human person is unique, indivisible, unrepeatable, and as such to be respected and guaranteed. . . . Thus, he continued, "belonging to one religion can never be a reason for discrimination; nor should anyone be viewed simply as a guest in his own country." He went on to point out that international law was now calling on governments to modify internal laws to reflect principles of religious and other freedoms. This looked toward the "assurance of parity of treatment for every person, independently of his or her ethnic, language, cultural and religious background."

The agreement last week between the Holy See and the PLO has attracted a great deal of heat. From a Catholic perspective let me shed a little light.

In a practical summary of the policy of the Holy See for the Region, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said at a meeting in Washington last March that he understands the need for a country like Israel "to live within clearly defined borders without having to be in a constant state of alert." When the bishops of the United States undertook the writing of a pastoral message "Toward Peace in the Middle East" the Israeli government provided us with an unforgettable helicopter tour of the land. This tour enabled us to see vividly and to report clearly what we had heard so often about the small and vulnerable size and shape of the State of Israel.

For two years the Holy See has been trying to provide for Church institutions in territories under Palestinian control the same legal protection that they have in Israeli territory. This protection came in virtue of the Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See in December 1993 with a subsequent exchange of ambassadors in 1994, and of the documents implementing the accord.

As the Holy See said in the clarifying statement issued immediately after the initial reaction of the Government of Israel, there is no attempt in the accord to "enter into questions of territoriality or sovereignty" in Jerusalem or anywhere in the region. The Holy See has repeatedly said, as we American bishops also declared in our statement, that these are questions to be resolved by the parties to the negotiations. These parties are Israeli and the Palestinians.

Indeed, it was to protect the principle that sovereignty can only be resolved by the parties who live there that the document restated the Holy See’s traditional rejection of any unilateral claim to the city, by any one party. The Jordanian claim to Jerusalem thus was rejected in 1948 in a document entitled In Multiplicibus Curis (In the Face of Multiple Preoccupations). Israeli’s Basic Law in 1967 was likewise rejected as "unilateral" and invalid under international law by the Holy See in 1968. Now, the Holy See has succeeded in getting the PLO to reject its own unilateral claim to the city by means of this Agreement.

Also of great interest in that the PLO in the preamble has finally acknowledged in an instrument recognized as binding under the international law the application of the principle of full religious liberty and freedom of conscience to its own society, the first Arab country to do so. This represents a very real breakthrough toward democracy in the Middle East, I believe. I can only pray that the idea will spread to other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia.

So far, I believe, the Israeli government can have no quarrel with the Holy See’s agreement with the PLO. Indeed, it should find much to be grateful for in the long run. Where there may be need for further discussion and clarification between Israel and the Holy See (and I am grateful once again for the 1993 Fundamental Accord that provides the means for such face to face, direct deliberations between the two!) is this: what are the practical implications of the inclusion of the long-standing position of the Holy See that there be an "international statute" to "guarantee" the five principles listed in the Preamble?

The five principles themselves, of course, are not the problem. They have all been affirmed already by successive governments of Israel. They include protection of access to the Holy Places and of the civil and religious liberties of all citizens of Jerusalem, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, and continued respect for the Status Quo.

Again, this was not a matter of the Holy See moving toward the position of the PLO, but of the PLO joining in an affirmation of long-standing principles put forth by the Holy See which the State of Israel already affirms. Here it is well to keep in mind that the Holy See already in 1968 ceased pushing for the UN’s idea of "internationalization," i.e. e., an "international status" for Jerusalem, in favor of the much more modest notion of an "international statute" for Jerusalem, guaranteeing its citizens basic religious rights. The latter, it is affirmed, can be worked out in such a way to avoid unduly threatening the sovereignty of Israel, and would have to be so worked out or Israel would not sign on.

But here we arrive at what I see as the real nub of Israel’s question about the Preamble. How would such an international mechanism be worked out in practice? Could citizens of Jerusalem take the governments of Israel and/or a possible Palestinian entity to the world court? And how would the court’s decision be enforced?

To my mind these are real, practical issues that the sovereign State of Israel can quite legitimately raise, both directly with the Holy See, now, for clarification, and keep in mind during its negotiations with the PLO.

But in the meantime, I believe that it is to everyone’s long-range benefit that the Holy See has managed to raise these issues in a legitimate way with one of the parties involved in the peace process.

We should all agree that the religious dimension of the city, especially the old city, is not peripheral to a resolution of the Jerusalem question, but central to it.

The interreligious dimension of Jerusalem presents a series of issues that cannot properly be subsumed under other categories, whether cultural or educational, although it is clearly related to both. In the religious sensitivities of two billion Christians and certainly in the minds and hearts of 15 million Jews around the world, Jerusalem is not just an "earthly" reality but in some very real way a "heavenly" reality. Why else would the mostly secular Jewish leaders who created and sustained the Jewish people’s modern liberation movement have called their movement after a most religious understanding of Jerusalem, holy Zion?

Everyday I pray publicly for the peace of Jerusalem and that region. Many of you, I know, have the same prayer on your lips. Many people in our Church throughout the United States have this concern in our hearts and in our prayers. We are not simply echoing an ancient prayer of the psalmist but a very real need for our world today, if truly we are to come to peace. Let us continue to pray that the leaders of the region may see that their peoples will be truly blessed when those who lead them have the political and moral courage to take decisions which contribute to a peace that is based on justice, that offers security to Israel and to the Palestinian people, at long last, a recognition of dignity and of peoplehood, and a land they can call their own.

The events of the Holocaust years as they relate to Pope Pius XII and the Holy See are now being appropriately studied by a joint committee of serious scholars. These scholars are examining the 12 published volumes of the Vatican Archives which relate in most thorough detail to the years of Nazi domination in Europe. It is clear to me that such studies could be expanded to the archives of other nations in order to see in greater relief the possibilities and the challenges faced by the Pope and by many others in that tortured time.

The coming visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel, Jerusalem and Bethlehem is of enormous significance. For years the Pope has dreamed of going to the region during our year of the Great Jubilee. His plans include a visit to Nazareth as well, despite the problem created by the potential construction of a mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation. Hopefully, the Government of Israel will address this concern for, as the newspaper, Ha’aretz has pointed out, the government has its own reputation as a guarantor of religious rights of all to protect in this issue.

The visit will provide the Pope with an opportunity to continue to educate Catholics and other Christians on our special faith relationship to the Jewish people, on the significance of the Holocaust in the context of the founding of the Jewish State, and on the place of the Law and the Prophets in our theology. There will be significant media interest in every step of this visit, which can also serve to help relationships between Islam and Judaism and Christianity. It will reinforce the desire for true theological dialogue, with parties meeting in mutual respect to discuss issues of faith close to their hearts. When our Jewish and Catholic group visited the region two years ago, we found a nearly universal belief that a visit from the Pope would be a positive event.

(Mention of Jerusalem prompts me to add a footnote about a project in which Pope John Paul has taken a personal interest. In Rome a Pontifical Institute on Islamic Studies has attained world level notice for the high caliber of its academic courses on the Koran and related Muslim matters. The Holy See has in Jerusalem a similar institute for Jewish Studies which within the past year has also qualified for pontifical status, that is, formal recognition by the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education as having the credentials needed to grant degrees. This is the Ratisbonne Centre and it functions in close collaboration with its neighbor, the Hebrew University. Of particular interest to us in the United States, Canada and all English-speaking countries will be the strengthening of the English offerings at this institute. This can have long-range beneficial effects on our Judaic studies worldwide, if our university and seminary professors of the future will be schooled there, imbibing at the source the language, the history and the religious thought and traditions of the Jewish people.)

With respect to the Holy Land, to Israel, Jerusalem, the Territories, we must note that this region has seen great pressures on the Christian minority to emigrate. When our interfaith pilgrimage visited there in March two years ago we heard the same lament from Israeli Jews and from Palestinian Muslims and Christians. All said that ways must be found to honor this minority and to stem and even to reverse the tide of emigration. A Christian absence would be a tragedy for the land the great monotheistic religions call holy.

Let me say something now about the United States. In this country we are developing for our Catholic schools and religious education programs a curriculum in Holocaust studies with extremely helpful collaboration from the Jewish community leadership. Incidentally, in this work we have been encouraged by Pope John Paul II, who explicitly commended such an approach in his visit to the United States in 1987 and, in a second document two years ago, gave fresh impetus to our efforts.

Also, here in the United States we continue our dialogue in the National Council of Synagogues with the Conservative and Reform organizations. Together we have published a statement regarding common goals and objectives during this year of the Millennium and also, recently, a statement opposing the death penalty. This latter statement has been drawn from theological positions that have been developing in a parallel fashion in both our religious traditions. At St. Louis in January of last year, Pope John Paul said: "A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 27). I renew [my] appeal . . . for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

We are seeing more support nationally for the freedom of parents to choose for their children a religiously oriented school. This is a subject of dialogue between our Bishops’ Conference and the Orthodox Jewish community. Cardinal O’Connor is the present Co-chair and, incidentally, he wants to be remembered to you today. His courageous advancing of understanding and friendship between our two faith communities is a continued inspiration to many of us.

We are following with great interest the cases with respect to vouchers that have reached the Supreme Court. This is an issue I mentioned to you several years ago, when I noted that Israel furnishes a significant part of the operating expenses of religious schools within that country. There are factors of competition and quality of education which, in my opinion, are also reasons to look into this approach. But you should know that we of the Catholic community do not want steps to be taken at the expense of quality public school education. Most of our own students are, in fact, in the public schools. But our parents feel that, in justice, while they are saving others hundreds of millions of tax dollars by operating our schools (in Maryland the savings achieved by Catholic schools amount to more than 400 million dollars each year), they should get back at least a small share for the education of their own children. And beyond this, what we are doing in the inner cities across our country to educate largely African-American children of other faith backgrounds is a genuine public service that ought to be recognized. In our 19 inner-city schools in Baltimore, we have 95% daily attendance. In the three high schools, 98% of the students who begin as freshman graduate. 92% or 93% go on to college or university studies. This is an achievement dependent on the sacrifices of many people, including teachers, parents, parishes, and friends who assist with the payment of tuitions.

One other point I must mention. I know that this year Rabbi A. James Rudin will be retiring from his full-time work with the American Jewish Committee. His contribution to the dialogue between our faith communities over the years has been enormous. It has been a personal joy of mine to be with Rabbi Jim in any number of settings and always to learn from his wisdom and experience. I am delighted that he will continue to keep an office with the American Jewish Committee and will be making ongoing contributions to our dialogue, contributions which will enrich all of us.

Last year Pope John Paul II in Mexico City published the vision of the Synod for America which had taken place some months before in Rome. He spoke of the relationships between the Church and the Jewish communities in the Western Hemisphere in words that I would like to recall today. "American society also includes Jewish communities, with which the Church has fostered increasing cooperation in recent years. The history of salvation makes clear our special relationship with the Jewish people. Jesus belongs to the Jewish people and he inaugurated his Church within the Jewish nation. A great part of the Holy Scriptures, which we Christians read as the word of God, constitute a spiritual patrimony which we share with Jews. Consequently any negative attitude in their regard must be avoided, since ‘in order to be a blessing for the world, Jews and Christians need first to be a blessing for each other." (Proposition 62)

As we look to the future, we may anticipate as well actions which speak louder than words by way of symbol in a world made one by the media. The papal visit to Jerusalem, Israel and the lands under the Palestinian Authority area going to be complemented by other symbolic steps:

  • More occasions like the one in Wroclow, Poland, in 1997, when Pope John Paul used a Catholic Eucharistic Congress for an interfaith event at which he spoke on the need for dialogue and cooperation and then, with all Poland watching by live television, embraced the other participants. The three rabbis present came last in line. When the Pope embraced them, the more than 10,000 people present, most of them Poles, thundered out their applause. The Pope's ancient title Pontifex Maximus, the great bridge-builder, seemed fully justified in that instant.
  • Services like that in St. Louis in January, when in the presence of the Pope a rabbi read the scriptural lesson for the event, a reading from the Prophet Isaiah, and the special ties between Church and Synagogue were made evident in a way that recalled the impact of the Pope’s visit of 1986 to the Great Synagogue of Rome. This event has already made a significant positive impression on those engaged in the dialogue between the Catholic and Jewish communities in the United States.
  • Events like that at the North American College in Rome, where last April Catholics and Jews together dedicated the Yom’Hashoah Menorah. This menorah is seen on a daily basis by some 170 seminarians and many visitors. It helps all to remember the enormity of what occurred under Hitler and reminds us of the hope expressed by Pope John Paul II (in his introduction to We Remember), that the work of repentance "may enable memory to play a necessary part in the process of shaping a future in which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never again be possible."
  • A concert with an interfaith emphasis in Rome, recalling the enormous impact of the Holocaust Concert in 1994. It is scheduled to take place in the Pope’s presence, on his 80th birthday, May 18. It will be the high point in a series of such concerts, scheduled to begin in Baltimore in March of this year. We are looking forward to seeing presented here on March 26, in the Basilica of the Assumption, the architectural symbol of religious freedom in the English-speaking world, under the direction of Maestro Gilbert Levine, the Creation oratorio of Haydn. Present will be many representatives of the national faith leadership of the United States of America. They will be part of an audience, hopefully to be enlarged by television, which will lift up hearts and minds to the Lord in response to the account of creation in Genesis as presented in a great musical setting. I anticipate that that evening those present, be they Jewish or Christian, Muslim or Mormon, will find a deep spiritual chord with which to resonate in a new sense of common dependence upon the ineffable, transcendent Creator, who is both the beginning and the end of our earthly pilgrimage. And with that will come a deeper appreciation and respect for others present, all made as Genesis teaches, in the divine image and likeness.

Thank you.