...a subject to ponder. In one of the most significant pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council, the Church declared that "in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone". Nostra Aetate.
This October, with the Year of Faith, we mark the 50th anniversary of that Council and its authoritative pronouncements. It is worrying that the Lefebvrists have not, to date, categorically affirmed their support for Nostra Aetate.
The reason for my pondering the subject is that for the past couple of years I have been working on a book which explores - among other things - the story of some nuns who hid Jews in their convent during the Second World War. They risked death in doing so, and their Rev. Mother has been rightly honoured for her courage and is commemorated at Yad Vashem. But the story of the Jews and the Church is a complicated one, stretching back across two millenia, and on studying the subject, it is impossible not to be struck with a profound sense of the neccessity of the "day of pardon" in which Blessed John Paul led the Church as we entered the third millenium.
"God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your
Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those
who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to
suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to
genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. We ask this through
Christ our Lord..."(St Peter's, First Sunday of Lent, 2000)
This was a deep and healing prayer. The subject was been muddled because of talk about "The Church and the Holocaust" and that is all wrong. Pius XII's reputation is now being more accurately assessed, and his action in saving so many Jewish lives is now being recognised. But it's stuff of the earlier centuries: the cramped ghetto in Rome in the days of the Papal States with its locked gates confining Jews within on all major Church feast days, the compulsory wearing of a yellow scarf or hat, their being banned from most professions, the compulsory attendance at church for sermons urging them into baptism...and more, and more...
The past is a foreign country - "they do things differently there". No point in smugly asserting our own moral superiority in this 21st century. But it was absolutely neccessary for the Church to reassess, to say "sorry", and to teach a firm commitment to a renewed solidarity and friendship with the Jewish people. The future, guided by this and by the heroism of those who shared danger with the Jewish people, promises better.