French journalist Anita Bourdin has written a fascinating article about the presence of Jews and the Hebrew language at the Synod for the Catholic Church in the Middle East that took place in the Vatican from October 10 to 24, 2010.
The original article is published in French on ZENIT
The final Message of the Synod for the Middle East dedicates three paragraphs to “Cooperation and Dialogue with Our Fellow-Citizens, the Jews”. For the first time, the documents of the Synod are available in Hebrew on the site of Vatican Radio. One speech reflected the situation of the Hebrew speaking Christians. A rabbi spoke and met Pope Benedict XVI. Three documents of the Synod condemned anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism.
Bible and Council
The first paragraph of the message addressed to “our Jewish fellow citizens” concerns Holy Scripture. “The same Scriptures unite us; the Old Testament, the Word of God is for both you and us. We believe all that God revealed there, since he called Abraham, our common father in the faith, Father of Jews, of Christians and of Muslims. We believe in the promises of God and his covenant given to Abraham and to you. We believe that the Word of God is eternal.”
The second mentions the turning point in the Council declaration “Nostra aetate” on the relations of the Church with the non-Christian religions and the developments of relations with Judaism that followed it: “The Second Vatican Council published the document Nostra aetate which treats interreligious dialogue with Judaism, Islam and the other religions. Other documents have subsequently clarified and developed the relationship with Judaism.”
The same paragraph recommended that the development of the dialogue also be for the benefit of peace: “On-going dialogue is taking place between the Church and the representatives of Judaism. We hope that this dialogue can bring us to work together to press those in authority to put an end to the political conflict which results in separating us and disrupting everyday life in our countries.”
Solution to the conflict
The third paragraph is dedicated to peace: “It is time for us to commit ourselves together to a sincere, just and permanent peace. Both Christians and Jews are called to this task by the Word of God. In his Word, we are invited us to listen to the voice of God “who speaks of peace”: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his holy ones” (Ps 85:9). Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable. On the contrary, recourse to religion must lead every person to see the face of God in others and to treat them according to their God-given prerogatives and God’s commandments, namely, according to God's bountiful goodness, mercy, justice and love for us.”
With regard to the resolution of the conflict, the message of the Synod, in a chapter addressed to the international community emphasizing the importance of UN resolutions, adds: “The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the Security Council’s resolutions and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.”
The security of Israel
The message also adds a paragraph that refers to the security of Israel: “The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security. The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders. The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-State-solution might become a reality and not a dream only.”
Finally, we note as well the presence among the Synod Fathers of Latin Patriarchal Vicar, Father David Neuhaus, responsible for the Hebrew speaking Catholic communities in Israel, Jesuit and Israeli citizen. He addressed the Synod on October 12.
Hebrew is a language of Catholics
He noted that “Hebrew is also a language of the Catholic Church in the Middle East” and that “hundreds of Israeli Catholics express all aspects of their life in Hebrew, thus inculturating their faith at the heart of a society defined by Jewish tradition.”
He added that migrant workers had changed the face of this Hebrew speaking community: “Thousands of children, who are Catholic by faith, belonging to families of migrant worker, refugees and even Arabs, attend Hebrew language schools and need catechism in Hebrew.”
Father Neuhaus also stressed the “great challenge” of the Hebrew speaking Catholic Vicariate, which “is looking for ways to serve as a bridge between a Church that is predominantly Arabic speaking and Israeli Jewish society in order to promote a teaching of respect for the people of the Old Testament as well as a sensitivity to the cry for justice and peace for Jews and for Palestinians.”
He concluded: Arabic speaking and Hebrew speak Catholics must witness together and work together for the Church in the Land in which she was born”.
Anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism were condemned by Coptic Catholic Patriarch – and future cardinal - Antonios Nagib in his pre and post Synod reports. In addition, the final propositions renewed this condemnation of “anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, distinguishing between religion and politics” (Proposition 41). This proposition adds: “Initiatives of dialogue and cooperation with Jews are to be encouraged so as to foster human and religious values, freedom, justice, peace and fraternity. Reading the Old Testament and getting to know Jewish traditions lead to a better understanding of the Jewish religion.”
Paragraph 12 of the final Message also says: “We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia and we call upon the religions to assume their responsibility to promote dialogue between cultures and civilizations in our region and in the entire world.”