CNEWA Connections: Recalling the Shoah

Friday 16 March marks the 20th anniversary of "We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah," the Vatican document on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

Editor’s note: Friday 16 March marks the 20th anniversary of “We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah,” the Vatican document on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, or Shoah. This commentary on the document was written by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

It has been 20 years since the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews released the historic document “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah”; an important step in the relationship between Catholics and Jews and an act of repentance on behalf the Catholic faithful — clergy and laity alike.

Though reception of the document varied within the Catholic and Jewish communities upon its release, ranging from fierce criticism to felicitous reception, it was recognized for what it was — an advancement for Catholic-Jewish relations through Catholic acknowledgment of the deficiencies of people of faith and cultural ambivalence toward European Jewry during the Second World War. This statement is by no means a final repentance or a complete reconciliation between our two communities, but it is a solid starting point for the growth of Catholic-Jewish spiritual friendship and mutual concern.

The history of Christian-Jewish relations is wrought with tension, demeaning rhetoric and flat out anti-Judaism. However, since the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate” (Declaration on the Relationship of the Church with non-Christian Religions) with special attention to paragraph 4, the church has been intentional in building friendship based on mutual trust and respect with the Jewish community. For relationships to flourish and dialogue to bear fruit, we, as Catholics and people of faith, must acknowledge the grim reality of our past in the hope of a more fruitful future.

Related: Seeking Interfaith Harmony
Remembering the Holocaust

In 2001, the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, at the then-National Conference of Catholic Bishops, produced a companion teaching tool to the Vatican document titled “Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See’s ‘We Remember.’ ” It was developed to “help Catholic educators begin developing curricula and other educational programs on the Holocaust.” The Shoah’s relevance to Catholic education is and will continue to be integral. It is a difficult subject to speak about, to teach about, and to learn about. It is equally difficult to understand how a Christian culture could perpetrate such atrocities, and what this history means for our current cultural context. However, it is necessary.

“The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable” was published in 2015 by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate.” Like “We Remember,” this document is another effort at offering practical insights regarding theological and pastoral progress between Catholics and Jews, outlining the historical and current realities between Christians and Jews.

Though much has been done to enhance Catholic-Jewish relations, it is unacceptable that anti-Semitism is a thread which continues to be woven in American society. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recently released its annual report of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. The report states that there was a 57 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, rising from 1,267 in 2016 to 1,986 in 2017.

In our increasingly polarized society where bigotry feeds upon humanity’s basest qualities, we must be diligent in returning to our institutional memory of the Shoah. “We Remember” is a tool to nurture our memory to, in the words of St. John Paul II, “play its necessary part in the process of shaping a future in which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never be possible again.”

As the church has made major strides in moving beyond the sin of anti-Semitism, I implore all the faithful to take stock of our lives and our relationships with our Jewish brothers and sisters and to reflect upon, learn from and pray for the continued growth of Catholic-Jewish friendship.

May our fervent prayer be that of St. John Paul, offered on the occasion of the promulgation of “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah” 20 years ago. “May the Lord of history guide the efforts of Catholics and Jews and all men and women of goodwill as they work together for a world of true respect for the life and dignity of every human being, for all have been created in the image and likeness of God.”

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