Jews hail new papal saints who revolutionized ties with Catholics

Thu Apr 24, 2014 12:40pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The late Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, who will be made saints on Sunday, did so much to end two millennia of Catholic anti-Semitism that a Jewish human rights group calls them "heroes to the Jewish people".

Both pontiffs marked the world's largest church in such varied ways that most Roman Catholics would probably list their pioneering respect for Jews, whom John Paul called "our beloved elder brothers" in faith, behind their other achievements.

But for a minority faith that suffered centuries of persecution, life in the ghettos and then the horrors of the Holocaust, the turnaround they achieved in Catholic-Jewish relations could rank as another miracle to their credit.

John is especially remembered for calling the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), whose landmark document "Nostra Aetate" (In Our Times) repudiated the 2,000-year-old concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus.

"Nostra Aetate ushered in amazing changes in Catholic-Jewish relations around the world, even if the degree to which it was internalized depended on whether Catholics and Jews lived side by side," said Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Inter-religious Affairs of American Jewish Committee.

During his long reign from 1978 to 2005, John Paul became the first pope since ancient times to visit a synagogue. On a visit to Jerusalem's Western Wall, he left a note saying he was "deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer."

"It was a gesture that will never be forgotten," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the group that hailed the two new saints as heroes.


Pope John Paul II places his hand on a crevice along the massive rocks of the Western Wall as he prays at Judiasm's holiest site March 26.