When Pope John XXIII addressed the Jewish people in 1960 with the words ‘I am Joseph your brother’, a new era in Christian/Jewish relations began.
The Second Vatican Council had moved, in Nostra Aetate (1965), towards reconciliation between Christians and Jews, acknowledging its judgmental error of the past that portrayed and taught that the Jewish people had forfeited their place as children of God by rejecting the Messiah, Jesus.
Nostra Aetate also acknowledged the part this error played in contributing to the roots of anti-Semitism.
Nostra Aetate reminded the Christian world that Jesus, Mary his mother, and all the Disciples were Jewish. Pope John Paul II continued to promote Jewish Christian Dialogue and relationships so that in the Catholic Church today Christians have been able to apologise for the past and recognise that the Jewish people remain, and have always been, loved and chosen by God-that they remain still, Israel, chosen by God to be a light to the nations, and that God continues to be faithful to the Divine covenant with the Jewish people-a covenant that has never been revoked.
When, in 1986, Pope John Paul II met with the Rabbi Toaff in Rome Synagogue it was the first time a pope had been in a synagogue since St. Peter, in the First Century. John Paul II’s words ‘You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers’ expressed to the world an acknowledgement that ‘the Jews are beloved of God, who has called them with an irrevocable calling.’ The developing dialogue between the Christian Churches and the Jewish people has been embraced and welcomed by Christians and Jews alike.
In a recent statement in Strasburg, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini commented on the significance of the Church’s role in the developments of revised biblical teaching after Nostra Aetate:
“In recent years, there has been a dramatic and unprecedented shift in Jewish and Christian relations. Throughout the nearly two millennia of Jewish exile, Christians have tended to characterize Judaism as a failed religion or, at best, a religion that prepared the way for, and is completed in, Christianity. In the decades since the holocaust, however, Christianity has changed dramatically. An increasing number of official church bodies, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have made public statements of their remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. These statements have declared, furthermore, that Christian teaching and preaching can and must be reformed so that they acknowledge God’s enduring covenant with the Jewish people and celebrate the contribution of Judaism to world civilization and to the Christian faith itself.
“Before the rise of Christianity, Jews were the only worshippers of the God of Israel. But Christians also worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Creator of heaven and earth. Although Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews, as Jewish theologians we rejoice that through Christianity hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel.”