As someone who works in the field of Jewish- Christian relations I recently
found myself with a meeting scheduled at a monastery in the Galilee. This
meeting just happened to come along at a time when my father was visiting from
Canada, so I urged him to come along, to see the extraordinary design and
architecture of the building and learn something about Christian life in Israel.
My father was unsure, as a man with a healthy degree of skepticism toward
religion generally, and some settled ideas about the Roman Catholic Church and
Some of this is my own fault. Because of my own years of
research and work, my father has become wellacquainted with evangelical- Jewish
relations and Christian Zionism, and the efforts underway in that corner of the
Christian world to develop better Jewish-Christian relations. As with my father,
I find many Jews today to be surprised and deeply skeptical of about relations
between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews.
Increasingly there’s a
tendency, particularly in Israel, to see Christian support for Israel, Christian
efforts to combat anti-Semitism and Christian love for the Jews primarily
through an evangelical, Christian Zionist lens. For many Jews, Roman Catholic
priests taking Judaism seriously, celebrating Jewish holidays, honoring Torah
and learning Hebrew is a shock.
I do not mean in any way to minimize the
importance (and complexity) of evangelical Christian support for Israel and
efforts in building better relations between Christians and Jews. But it would
be a tragic mistake to forget the work underway in other expressions of
There are lovers of Israel and the Jews to be found among
all denominations, just as there are evangelical anti- Semites. It’s a mistake
for Jews in Israel and abroad to narrow our Christian conversation partners,
challengers and allies down to a single branch of Christianity.
and legacy of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini is a case in point. His passions
included the Bible, his beloved Jerusalem, and the possibilities for dialogue
and peace between Jews and Christians.
CARLO MARIA Martini was born in
Italy in 1927. In 1944 he entered the Society of Jesus in 1944 and he was
ordained as a priest in 1952. Martini was an academic, with earned doctorates in
theology and Scripture.
From 1962 he held the chair of Textual Criticism
at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and went on to serve as rector from
1969-1978. There he encouraged Catholic students to come to Israel to study a
program of Judaism, archaeology and Hebrew language.
At the pope’s
request in 1979 he went on to serve as archbishop of Milan. Martini was ordained
an archbishop in 1980 and elevated to cardinal in 1983. With his retirement in
2002, Martini returned to scriptural study and Jerusalem, moving to the
Pontifical Biblical Institute until his declining health brought him back to
Italy. He passed away after years of struggling with Parkinson’s, in
Martini was a faithful and public defender of the reforms of
Vatican II, the Council that, lest we forget, was responsible for setting
Jewish-Christian relations in an entirely new direction with Nostra Aetate in
1965. Martini was explicit in his conviction that the Catholic Church could only
understand itself fully through understanding the Jewish people. “Toward that
end” he wrote, “we must understand how the Jews perceive
This is an extraordinary statement.
The importance of
inviting Jews to interpret ourselves, and to take our own self-conceptions
seriously as part of making sense of the Church’s own identity, cannot be
Martini also insisted that “Simple anti-anti- Semitism is
not enough. It is thus necessary to develop motivations for a friendship that in
the heart of the other increasingly reads the thoughts that we share, and that
finds a space for the differences, making sure however that these differences do
not lead to conflict or dismissal.”
It is indeed most appropriate that
his memory is being celebrated later this month with a Jewish and Christian
pilgrimage from Italy to Israel. The group – that includes cardinals, emeritus
chief rabbis, scholars and laypeople will engage in many important activities to
honor Martini’s legacy and recognize his special bond with the land of Israel
and the Jewish people, to stand as an example of what can be done and what must
be done for the future.
These include the dedication of a JNF forest near
Tiberias in his name, a joint Jewish and Christian prayer service at the Kotel,
a meeting with Jewish religious leaders and an evening reception and lectures
with local Jews and Christians at the Center for Studies in Jewish-Christian
Relations at Yezreel Valley College.
CARDINAL MARTINI’s chosen episcopal
motto stands out, offering us a vision of courage and devotion to truth both
precious and critical values in our effort to live together in these complicated
times. The words are both a dare and a direction: Pro Veritate Adversa Diligere,
“For Love of the Truth, Seek Out Adverse Situations.”
restricting our conversation partners makes things less challenging.
such, however, our encounters become less truthful. May we honor the spirit of
daring and truth as we walk the path of working to understand ourselves and each
The writer is the director for the Center for Studies in Jewish-
Christian Relations at Yezreel Valley College in Afula. She can be contacted at
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