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Posted by on Apr 5, 2005 in Articles | 0 comments

On the Death of Pope John Paul II

URJ Press Release

With the death of Pope John Paul II, Catholics worldwide have lost a monumental leader and the Jewish community has lost a treasured friend.

John Paul II made it a special priority of his Papacy to continue the process of reconciliation between the Church and the Jewish people that began a half century ago.

His achievements in this realm were extraordinary and far-reaching.  He was the first pope to visit a synagogue.  He spoke out eloquently against anti-Semitism, condemning it as a “sin against God.”  He referred to the Jewish people as Christianity’s “older brother,” and insisted on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jews.  He described the twentieth century as the century of the Shoah, and cited Jewish suffering while kneeling at Auschwitz.  In a step of special importance, he established full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel in 1993, and made a remarkable trip to the Holy Land, including a visit to the Western Wall, in 2000.

The extent of the change that John Paul II wrought is expressed in the power and intensity of the language he used, calling on members of the church to do teshuvah (repentance) for sins committed against the Jewish people, and urging them to remember the unique relationship that exists between the church and the Jewish religion.  He called upon Christians and Jews to become a blessing to one another and then to the world.

The Jewish community also admired his leadership in advancing democracy in Eastern Europe, his clarion call for caring for the world’s neediest, and his resolute opposition to the death penalty.  While we had our disagreements – on gender equality, reproductive rights, and the rights of gays and lesbians – we never doubted for a moment that he was a man of profound principle, courage, and vision.  Even when our religious traditions led us to different conclusions, John Paul II always found new opportunities for reengaging in our common purpose of bringing justice with mercy into the human community.

In the Jewish tradition, we say of those who have left us:  “May his memory be a blessing.”  We say this today of John Paul II, knowing that his memory is and will continue to be a blessing for countless millions throughout the world, and that the Jewish community joins his flock in grieving for this courageous shepherd.

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