Pope Francis and the ICCJ on the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate

Pope Francis addressed a meeting of the International Council of Christians and Jews in Rome yesterday, on the fiftieth anniversary of the seminal Nostra Aetate declaration by Pope Paul VI in 1965 which redefined the relationship between the Catholic church and non-Christian religions.

Ron Hoenig from the Australian Council of Christians and Jews reports from Rome that
More than 300 delegates at the Rome conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews shook the hand of Pope Francis at the end of an emotional audience with his Holiness in Vatican city.

The audience included an address to the Pope by ICCJ President Phillip Cunningham in which he informed the Pope of the dialogue work of the council and the presentation of three gifts to the Pope by members of the ICCJ executive board, including Australian second vice president Michael Trainor.

Among these gifts was a statue that shows the female figures of the Church and the Synagogue standing proudly and powerfully together.

The statue was commissioned by the Council to embody a new vision of mutuality and respect between the Church and Judaism and to counter the traditional supercessionist representation of the relationship between a triumphant Christianity and a bowed and defeated figure of Judaism that still appears in many churches in Europe.

In honour of the long ongoing friendship between the Pope and the Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, identical versions of the statue were presented to the Pope and Rabbi Skorka.

In what is seen by delegates as an extraordinary symbol of support for the Council’s work, the pope then personally greeted every one of the delegates.

Here is the English translation of the Pope’s address in Italian on the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, as reported by the Vatican:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased that your meeting is taking place this year in Rome, the city where the Apostles Peter and Paul are buried. For all Christians, both Apostles are an important point of reference: they are like “pillars” of the Church. Here in Rome, we also find the most ancient Jewish community in Western Europe, whose origins can be traced to the time of the Maccabees. Christians and Jews therefore have lived together in Rome for almost two thousand years, even though their relations in the course of history have not been without difficulty.

The development of an authentic fraternal dialogue has been made possible since the Second Vatican Council, following the promulgation of the Declaration Nostra Aetate. This document represents a definitive “yes” to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable “no” to anti-Semitism. In celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, we are able to see the rich fruits which it has brought about and to gratefully appraise Jewish-Catholic dialogue. In this way, we can express our thanks to God for all the good which has been realized in terms of friendship and mutual understanding these past fifty years, as his Holy Spirit has accompanied our efforts in dialogue. Our fragmented humanity, mistrust and pride have been overcome thanks to the Spirit of Almighty God, in such a way that trust and fraternity between us have continued to grow. We are strangers no more, but friends, and brothers and sisters. Even with our different perspectives, we confess one God, Creator of the Universe and Lord of history. And he, in his infinite goodness and wisdom, always blesses our commitment to dialogue.

Christians, all Christians, have Jewish roots. Because of this, since its inception, the International Council of Christians and Jews has welcomed the various Christian confessions. Each of them, in its own way, has drawn near to Judaism, which in its time, has been distinguished by diverse trends and sensibilities. The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah. This pattern of theological reflection on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity arises precisely from Nostra Aetate (cf. no. 4), and upon this solid basis can be developed yet further.

In its reflection on Judaism, the Second Vatican Council took account of the ten theses of Seelisberg, formulated in that Swiss town in 1947. These theses are closely linked to the founding of the International Council of Christians and Jews. We can say that there was already in embryonic form an initial concept of cooperation between your organization and the Catholic Church. This cooperation was officially inaugurated after the Council, and especially after the establishment of our Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in 1947. This Commission of the Holy See always follows your organization’s activities with great interest, in particular the annual international meetings, which offer a notable contribution to Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Dear friends, I thank all of you for this visit and I wish you well for your meeting. May the Lord bless you and keep you in his peace. I ask you please to pray for me. Thank you.

“Let us have mercy upon words”

ICCJ Pleads “Let Us Have Mercy upon Words” When Discussing Middle East

The  Executive  Board  of  the  International  Council  of  Christians  and  Jews issued  a  statement  today  expressing  alarm  over  an  “increasing  polarization  in  the  discourse  between  Jews  and Christians  and  also  within  each  community,”  when  it  comes  to  the  Israeli‐Palestinian  conflict.  Based  on  reports from  ICCJ  members  around  the  world,  “extreme  viewpoints  seem  to  be  increasing  in  popularity,  while  efforts toward moderation or compromise are rejected as disloyal or naive.”

Observing that the “degree of vehemence seems to be reaching an unprecedented crescendo in many places,” the statement  entitled,  “Let  Us  Have  Mercy  Upon  Words,”  insists  that  the  prevailing  “no  holds  barred”  rhetoric  is particularly  distressing  to  “an  organisation  committed  to  interreligious  dialogue  to  promote  understanding and enrichment between Jews and Christians.”

The title was a frequent appeal by the late Rabbi Leon Klenicki (1930‐2009), longtime interreligious director for the Anti‐Defamation League. He would intervene with these words when interreligious conversations became overly heated or personalized.

The ICCJ statement illustrates its concerns by discussing reactions to a December 2009 declaration by Palestinian Christians  called,  “Kairos  Palestine:  A  Moment  of  Truth:  A  word  of  faith,  hope  and  love  from  the  heart  of Palestinian suffering.”

The  statement  expresses  appreciation  for  aspects  of  the  Kairos  Palestine  document,  but  also  lists six serious questions about it.

However,  the  ICCJ  stresses  that  its  “main  purpose  in  discussing  the  [Kairos]  document  is  not  to  analyze its weaknesses, but to seriously engage its authors in the kind of respectful dialogue that we believe is essential for mutual respect among all religious communities, especially ones afflicted by political conflict.”   The ICCJ statement sees a lack of such respectful dialogue in the reaction of some critics of Kairos Palestine, who “come  across  as  construing  any  [of  its]  ambiguities  in  the  most  negative  light,  making  spurious  assertions  that delegitimize the document.”

“Unlike most of the other responses we’ve seen, ours, I believe, is nuanced and balanced, and does not assume the worst about others,” said Dr. Deborah Weissman, president of the ICCJ. “I hope that it will contribute to advancing the dialogue rather than stifling it.”

“We join all those who love the Land called holy by three interrelated religions in being impatient for the day when it truly will be a sign of interreligious cooperation and even love between the nations of Israel and Palestine,” the statement concludes. “Meanwhile, let our impatience be tempered by having “mercy upon words” so that through dialogue mutual understanding may grow.”

The full text of “Let Us Have Mercy Upon Words” follows.

The International Council of Christians and Jews serves as the umbrella organisation of 38 national Jewish‐Christian dialogue  organisations on  five continents. Its member  organisations world‐wide  over  the past  five  decades  have been  successfully  engaged  in  the  historic  renewal  of  Jewish‐Christian  relations.  The  ICCJ’s  efforts  to  promote Jewish‐Christian  dialogue  provide  models  for  wider  interfaith  relations,  particularly  dialogue  among  Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Through its annual conferences and other consultations the ICCJ offers a platform where people  of  different  religious  backgrounds  examine  current  issues  across  national  and  religious  boundaries, enabling  face‐to‐face  exchanges  of  experience  and  expertise.  The  international  headquarters  of  the  ICCJ  are located  in  Heppenheim,  Germany  in  the  house  where  the  great  Jewish  thinker  Martin  Buber  lived  until  Nazi persecution forced him to flee Germany.


A Plea from the International Council of Christians and Jews to All Who Seek Interreligious Understanding During its annual meeting from 20-24 June 2010 in Istanbul, Turkey, the Executive Board of the International Council of Christians and Jews was dismayed to receive accounts from around the world of increasing polarization in the discourse between Jews and Christians and also within each community. According to many of our members, extreme viewpoints seem to be increasing in popularity, while efforts toward moderation or compromise are rejected as disloyal or naive.

This polarization appears to be caused in large part by the continuing lack of progress in normalizing relations between Israelis and Palestinians and in achieving the goal of two states of Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

Instead of the open discussion of complicated issues, Jews and Christians who critique the current reality are delegitimized or silenced, while expressions of antisemitism and Islamophobia abound. In such a heated climate, the use of certain charged phrases, such as “end the Occupation” or “the survival of Israel” can trigger reflexive condemnations, regardless of the thoughtfulness or good will of the writer or speaker. The degree of vehemence seems to be reaching an unprecedented crescendo in many places.

As an organisation committed to interreligious dialogue to promote understanding and enrichment between Jews and Christians (and indeed all people), this increasingly “no holds barred” rhetoric is particularly distressing. It contradicts fundamental values of human respect in both our traditions.

Several recent incidents could illustrate the present volatile atmosphere, but we will only consider one particular example because it is a text composed and discussed by religious leaders, who we believe have a special responsibility to promote interfaith respect. We are referring to published reactions to the December 2009 statement by a group of Palestinian Christians entitled, “Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.” We find admirable aspects to the document even though we object to many of its proposals and phrasings.

The genre of the document is a lament. It addresses fellow Palestinian Christians, then local leaders, Palestinian and Israeli society, the international community, and Christians around the world. It proceeds to describe the deteriorating conditions of Palestinian life. It particularly assails the use of the Bible to justify the taking away of rights from Palestinians [2.2-4; 6.1]. This use of the Bible has the pastoral effect of depriving Palestinian Christians of scriptures that could offer them inspiration and hope. The statement bemoans the Palestinian situation as a catastrophe that seems to continue with no end in sight, attributing this to “the Occupation.”

What strikes us as admirable is that despite the hardships that the text relates, it does not descend into rage, hatred, or even ─ as is sadly all too common today ─ empty polemic. Instead, the document manifests generosity of spirit and offers some weighty religious insights, which might not be expected from a lament.

It asserts the common humanity of everyone as made in the image of God [2.1; 8]. It sees the Land as meant to be a holy place where Jews, Christians, and Muslims can come together in love and mutual respect [5.4]. It rejects all forms of violence by anyone [5.4.3]. It insists that the Bible cannot be used to justify the violation of human rights, but must inspire faith, hope, and love [2.4]. It urges that interreligious dialogue and education occur despite its difficulties [3.3.2; 9.1]. It extends a message of love and hope to Jews and Muslims [5.4]. The Palestinian authors of the document offer a profound Christian conviction which some critics overlook: “Just as Christ rose in victory over death and evil, so too we are able, as each inhabitant of this land is able, to vanquish the evil of war” [3.5]. The spiritual encouragement that the document could offer to demoralized Christians seems to us a worthy and essential exercise in pastoral care. It seeks to bring hope to young people who could easily be tempted to hopelessness and desperation. It looks ahead to preparing Palestinian Christians to be partners with Israelis when the day comes that two independent states actually exist [9.1-2].

This is not to say that we do not have strong differences with certain features of Kairos Palestine, some of which we will briefly note. However, our main purpose in so doing is to encourage open and honest conversation among religious leaders, in contrast to the widespread present tendency to misrepresent or distort different perspectives. We hope that these questions, posed to promote dialogue and clarity, might be useful to the Kairos Palestine authors if they ever compose a commentary or a second edition of it.

1. There appears to be a studied ambiguity in some phrasings, encouraging justifiable readings that range from extremely positive to extremely negative, depending on the orientation of the reader. To take one example, the title “Kairos Palestine” is surely intended to recall the famous 1985 “Kairos Document” from Soweto, South Africa, which like Kairos Palestine also challenged churches to intervene on behalf of an oppressed and demoralized people. Do the authors of Kairos Palestine mean to suggest that Palestinian Christians or Palestinians in general are experiencing apartheid, or that an apartheid state is inevitable without some change, or is the allusion to South Africa a rhetorical strategy? It would be helpful if the meaning the authors intended by the title was explicit.

2. There are certain tensions in the text. Are these deliberate or the result of the document being committee- authored? For example, point 1.5 describes previous peace negotiations as ineffectual, observes that some “political parties followed the path of armed resistance,” and goes on to accuse Israel of “using this as a pretext” to justify their “war against terror.” But the paragraph does not define “armed resistance” or explicitly reject the use of violence as it does elsewhere in section 4. Even in that section there is ambiguity. The document expresses “esteem for all those who have given their life for our nation” [4.2.5]. Does this include suicide bombers or snipers who might have viewed themselves as martyrs for the Palestinian nation? This vagueness invites skepticism about the sincerity of the text’s high principles.

3. We agree with Kairos Palestine that Jewish religious attachment to Eretz Yisrael and biblical promises concerning the Land cannot be simplistically interpreted to justify modern politics, policies, or boundaries. However, the document is again ambiguous when it asserts that “our land has a universal mission” that is a “prelude to complete universal salvation” [2.3]. Does this stress on eventual universality invalidate the particularity of Jewish religious attachment to the Land today or is it only a rejection of an exclusively Jewish religious claim upon it?

4. Our plea for everyone to “have mercy upon words,” as explained below, also applies to the document’s ambiguous use of highly charged theological phrases, such as “letters of stone,” “sin,” and “holy war.” While such expressions may be understandable in dire straits, they are often counterproductive to the goal of significant conversation among contending forces. What did the authors seek by using such freighted terms without clear definition or explication?

5. The understandable cry to “end the Occupation” is put forth as if only one party, the State of Israel, has sole responsibility for its establishment and continuance. But just as the beginnings of the present “sinful situation” are due to the actions of many regional and international powers, do not neighboring countries, their proxies, and the international community also have essential roles to play in order for Palestinian statehood to be realized? Although a broader vista appears in point 7, it calls only for the international community to institute “economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel” without regard for any needed actions by other parties. We disapprove of this constricted focus both in principle and in terms of its likely effectiveness to achieve the aim of building two neighboring states of Israel and Palestine.

6. Section 9.3 speaks of “the state” in the singular, leading some to ask whether the authors of Kairos Palestine are committed to the “two state solution,” or are they only referring to “the state” in general terms to assert that any “state” ought not to have an established religion?

These and other serious objections or questions about Kairos Palestine do not outweigh our appreciation for its spiritual dimensions as noted above. Our main purpose in discussing the document is not to analyze its weaknesses, but to seriously engage its authors in the kind of respectful dialogue that we believe is essential for mutual respect among all religious communities, especially ones afflicted by political conflict. We sympathize both with those Palestinians who feel that the likelihood of a Palestinian state seems to be dwindling and with those Israelis who fear that their hopes to live in friendship with their Palestinian neighbors are a pipedream.

We also see in some responses to Kairos Palestine further evidence of growing polarization, antithetical to dialogue, that deeply concerns us. Rather than seriously grappling with its strengths and weaknesses, some critics come across as construing any ambiguities in the most negative light, making spurious assertions that delegitimize the document. For example, one allegation circulated on the Internet is that the term “dead letter” in the statement [2.2.2] is a supersessionist demeaning of the Hebrew scriptures. In fact the phrase clearly refers to fundamentalist applications (presumably both Christian and Jewish) of the Bible to current geopolitics, which transforms the text from a living tradition that is subject to interpretation by people of faith today into a stagnant fossil from the past. Another writer exaggerated the document’s critique of Israel by describing it as “demonizing” Israel. Such overstatements are a sign of the present militant atmosphere in which authentic religious convictions can be ignored. “Love is the commandment of our Christ our Lord to us and it includes both friends and enemies” [4.2] declare the Christian authors of Kairos Palestine. Does cynicism hold such sway in the present climate that authentic spiritual expressions, in this case a Christian one, must be contemptuously ignored?

On many occasions, the late Rabbi Leon Klenicki (1930-2009) would intervene at contentious moments in the interreligious encounter to implore everyone to “have mercy upon words.” We urge all those involved in interreligious dialogue around the world to consciously resist the forces that promote polarization and undermine the very possibility of such dialogue.

We join all those who love the Land called holy by three interrelated religions in being impatient for the day when it truly will be a sign of interreligious cooperation and even love between the nations of Israel and Palestine. Meanwhile, let our impatience be tempered by having “mercy upon words” so that through dialogue mutual understanding may grow.

National CCJ Conference: 3-4 July 2010

National Council of Christians and Jews Conference
Saturday July 3 and Sunday July 4, 2010
Wesley Hall, St Johns College, 202 St Johns Road, Meadowbank, Auckland

Theme: Christian-Jewish Dialogue: Encouraging Development, Emerging Challenges

Keynote speaker: Rev Dr John Pawlikowski OSM, Professor of Ethics and Director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Programme at the University of Chicago, Past President of the ICCJ and for over forty years a leading figure in Jewish-Christian relations worldwide. With Dr Paul Morris, Professor of Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

Featuring also Mona Williams, New Zealand’s foremost professional story-teller, speaking after dinner on Saturday and after lunch on Sunday.


Saturday July 3
5pm Reception (mix, mingle, introduce yourself, meet others)
6pm Dinner in St Johns Dining Hall, followed by Mona Williams
Sunday July 4
10am Keynote speech: Rev Dr John Pawlikowski OSM
11am Morning tea
11.30-12.30pm Response: Professor Paul Morris
12.30pm Lunch, followed by Mona Williams
1.30-2.30pm Panel discussion
2.45-3.00pm Coffee break
3.00-3.45pm Final word: Rev Dr John Pawlikowski OSM

If you would like to come to the conference, please download, fill in, and return the registration form (Word) (PDF) with your registration payment of $20.

Public Seminar 25 November: Christians Muslims and Jews in the Middle East – Is religion the problem or the solution?

Victoria University of Wellington and the Wellington Council of Christians and Jews Present a Public Seminar

Christians Muslims and Jews in the Middle East:
Is religion the problem or the solution?

Rabbi David Rosen
International Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee
International Co-President, World Council of Religions for Peace
Former President, International Council of Christians and Jews
Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland

8pm, Wednesday 25 November 2009
Council Chamber, Victoria University of Wellington

Moderator: Archbishop John Dew
Chair: Professor Paul Morris

Download the flyer in Word or PDF format.

ICCJ Conference Berlin 5-8 July

The International Council of Christians and Jews has announced its 2009 conference to be held 5-8 July 2009 in Berlin, with the theme “A Time for Recommitment: Jewish-Christian dialogue 70 years after the war and Holocaust”.

Sunday July 5, 2009

13.00 Women’s seminar
18.00 Reception
18.30 Opening dinner
20.00 Opening session with presentation of the new ICCJ document
including the ‘Twelve Points of Berlin’/’Zwölf Berliner Thesen’.
Guest: Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble, German Minister for the Interior

Monday July 6, 2009

07.00 Denominational prayers at hotel
07.30 Breakfast
09.00 Meditative moment
09.30 Plenary session
Christian Key note speaker (to be invited)
Jewish Respondent: Dr. Edward Kessler, Cambridge
Theme: The necessity of developing theologies of Judaism that affirm its distinctive integrity.
11.00 Workshops (contributors and moderators to be invited) on theological themes
deriving from the Twelve ICCJ Berlin Points, such as:
– Paul and Judaism
– Mutual influencing of Jewish and Christian liturgy
– 21st century forms of supersessionism
– Reform of synagogue liturgy?
– How to work with the ‘Twelve ICCJ Berlin Points’ etc.
12.30 Lunch
14.00 Workshops (contributors and moderators to be invited)
on today’s issues in Jewish-Christian dialogue, such as:
– The Roman Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI
– The necessity of trilateral dialogue
– The political situation in the Middle East
– The input of Asia and Africa in dialogue. Etc.
15.30 Free evening in Berlin

Tuesday July 7, 2009.

07.00 Denominational prayers at hotel
07.30 Breakfast
09.00 Meditative moment
09.30 Plenary session
Jewish key note speaker: Prof. Ruth Langer, Boston College
Christian Respondent: Dr. Barbara Meyer, Jerusalem.
Theme: Re-examining Jewish texts and liturgy in the light of Jewish-Christian dialogue.
11.30 Outing by boat on the Spree river
15.30 Break at hotel
17.30 Celebration of the 60-th anniversary of the ‘Deutsche Koordinierungsrat’ at the
Französischer Dom. Special guest: Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor.
19.30 Reception and dinner

Wednesday July 8, 2009

07.00 Denominational prayers at hotel
07.30 Breakfast
09.00 Meditative moment
09.30 Plenary session.
A panel with a Jewish, a Christian and a Muslim speaker. (to be invited)
Theme: ‘The common commitment for justice in the global society’.
11.00 Workshops on the non-theological points from the ‘Twelve ICCJ Berlin Points’.
13.30 Visits in Berlin: The Holocaust Memorial, The Jewish Museum and other places.
18.00 Closing event and dinner.