AJC Private Audience with Pope Benedict XVI|
March 16, 2006, The Vatican
The American Jewish Committee is greatly honored by this audience that you have granted us. It gives me the opportunity as AJC President to personally convey our warm congratulations to you on your ascent to the Papacy and to wish that the Almighty's blessings will be upon all your endeavors.
Your reception of our delegation is recognition of the historic relationship that the American Jewish Committee has enjoyed with the Holy See, especially since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. We were deeply involved with the late Cardinal Augustin Bea in the deliberations that preceded the promulgation of Nostra Aetate through our then European Representative, Zacharia Schuster; our special consultant, the great Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; and our Director of Interreligious Affairs, Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum. Today we take further pride in the honor you recently bestowed on our present International Director of Interreligious Affairs, Rabbi David Rosen, when you made him a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great.
Your illustrious predecessor of blessed memory, John Paul II, when receiving the leadership of the American Jewish Committee in February 1985, described the new relationship between the Church and the Jewish People – to which he contributed so much himself - as one in which Love had replaced hostility and ignorance.
It seems appropriate that Your Holiness' first Encyclical letter was on the subject of Love as the Divine manifestation, and surely in the new found love that exists between Catholics and Jews there is nothing less than the testimony to the presence of God in our midst.
We deeply appreciate your clear determination to carry forward the luminous spirit of Nostra Aetate and the many subsequent Vatican notes and guidelines related to it. Helping to maintain that spirit is the training of future clergy, conducted by the American Jewish Committee and the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jewry currently taking place at the Cardinal Bea Center at the Gregorian Pontifical University and at other institutions with which AJC is affiliated in the United States.
As Your Holiness recognizes, we face many serious threats in our world today. We are concerned about the disregard for religion and religious values that we encounter in some places, and alarmed by the violent abuse of religion which threatens to engulf humanity in disaster. We appreciate your forceful condemnations of anti-Semitism. This determinedly persistent form of hatred and bigotry appears to find new ways to express itself in each generation. Amidst war, totalitarianism, and a rejection of the abiding values of humanity, the Shoah, in the midst of the 20th century, took the lives of six million Jews and countless other innocents. You have demonstrated an unwavering determination to see that this immense tragedy is appropriately remembered and never forgotten, and for that I express my deepest gratitude. Sadly, extremism and the savage bigotry that accompanies it is again beginning to alter the landscape. Our two faith communities have been threatened by this frightful trend, and I am confident that we will stand together in firm moral solidarity, working to push back against intolerance, to promote human dignity, and to awaken the collective conscience of mankind.
This solidarity demands effective response to urgent issues such as world hunger, the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and the ominous threat of nuclear proliferation. Perhaps above all it requires resolve in the face of terror and violent intimidation. The State of Israel is at the forefront of this challenge-being faced with a vanguard of international terrorism. Accordingly, any accommodation between Israel and its neighbors that is not only based upon unequivocal recognition of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, but also the repudiation of the menace of terrorism, will serve only to postpone the achievement of peace.
In a similar vein, we believe that our extensive and ongoing global efforts to foster good relations among all faith communities – especially in the Holy Land – constitute a pressing moral responsibility that is of the greatest significance for world peace.
Shir HaShirim, the Song of Solomon, Shlomo, which means peace and wholeness, has been described by our Rabbinic commentators as a progressive, fourfold song. First, there is the song of one’s own self, the natural starting point for the quest toward peace. We are taught, however, that the song must not remain at that level, but rather must expand, so that its melody warmly embraces one’s own community, one’s own people. But still, certainly, that is not enough. The song, if it is to be true to its great spirit, must reach out to yet wider vistas, encompassing all people everywhere. And finally, if the song is to express the deepest yearnings of our faith, then it must reach out to all existence, linking in joy and celebration to the entire universe. I wish to conclude with a prayer that we may strive together to make the beautiful Song of Solomon heard, in all its fullness, as far and wide as possible.