Views mixed on pope's use of Auschwitz diary in Easter ritual

Father Michael McGarry, rector of Jerusalem's Tantur Ecumenical Institute, said that the use in the context of the Passion was a mistake.

April 13, 2007 00:43
2 minute read.
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pope benedict 298 88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])


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Pope Benedict XVI's use of quotes from the diary of a Jewish Auschwitz victim in a central Easter ritual has sparked differing reactions in Israel. Father Michael McGarry, rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, said the use of a Jewish source in the context of the Passion was a mistake. "The Passion has been used throughout the ages by anti-Semites as a pretext to persecute Jews," said McGarry. "It would be best to stay away from Jewish sources in connection with the Passion." Prof. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, said that while he was not familiar with the details of Catholic ritual, he was wary of any attempts to "Christianize the Holocaust." The meditation on the third station of the cross was authored at the pope's request by Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, the prefect of the Ambrosian Library in Milan. "A witness which must be forcefully rendered even when there is a powerful temptation to hide, to give up, to go along with the prevailing opinion. "In the words of a young Jewish woman destined to die in a concentration camp: 'Each new horror or crime, we must oppose with a new fragment of truth and goodness which we have gained in ourselves. We can suffer, but we must not surrender,'" the meditation reads. Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee's director of interreligious affairs, said the quote from Etty Hillesum's diary was a sincere expression of remorse for Jewish suffering. "The reference that the pope makes to a positive, committed Jewish person," said Rosen, "shows that, in keeping with the sea change in Church doctrine, the Passion is not a charge of collective responsibility against the Jewish people." Rosen also said that as a German, Benedict was aware of his special responsibility to reaffirm the Church's commitment to a more pro-Jewish attitude as set down in the Nostra Etate, the 1965 declaration on the relation of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions. McGarry and Rosen were reacting to an Easter Catholic meditation commissioned by the pope that contained quotes from Hillesum, a Dutch Jew who was executed in Auschwitz in 1943. The meditation was part of the Stations of the Cross ceremony that takes place every year on Good Friday. The ceremony, also known as the Via Crucis or Via Dolorosa, recreates Jesus's path to crucifixion, or the Passion. The 14-station candle-lit procession, presided over by the pope, goes around the Coliseum in Rome. The quote from Hillesum's diary appeared in the meditation for the third station, newly entitled "Jesus is Condemned by the Sanhedrin," which reenacts the turning over of Jesus to Pontius Pilate by the Jews' "Council of Elders," as told in Luke 22 and 23. The mention of the Sanhedrin, the highest legal authority of the Jewish people, which does not appear in Luke, was one of many changes made to the ceremony. Zuroff said the mention of the Sanhedrin "did not exactly engender a positive Jewish attitude" among Christians. The meditation on the third station recounts the indictment of Jesus by the Sanhedrin, and goes on to teach the following theological lesson: "That defendant [Jesus], humiliated by a disdainful court [the Sanhedrin], by the sumptuous courtroom, by a sentence already sealed, reminds us of our own duty to bear witness to the truth." bitter reality like a neighbor."

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