04/28/2011, 00.00
ISRAEL - VATICAN

John Paul II, hailed "Chief Rabbi" by the Jews of Israel

David-Maria A. Jaeger
He was the first pope to change relations between the Church and State of Israel, establishing a true dialogue between Catholics and Jews. His memory invites us, challenges us to go further forward, build and dare again, always new, always more.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - Pope John Paul II, whom the reigning Pontiff, Benedict XVI has happily agreed to include among the Blessed, laid the foundation, opened the way for a profound transformation of Church-State relations in Israel, leaving the Church here a precious legacy to bear fruit.

December 11, 1992, in a keynote speech (though little noticed at the time), at a conference of lawyers gathered at the Pontifical Lateran University, John Paul II unveiled his vision for the Church, even in the Middle East, no longer " protected ", but free and active, with members who enjoy, not the status of a tolerated " minority ", but enjoying full human and civil rights, on an equal footing with all their fellow citizens. At that time he was ready to sign the first example of this new order, the Fundamental Agreement with Israel, which was formally signed, by mandate of the Sovereign Pontiff, the 30th of the same month (February 15, 2000 the same as basic agreement with the Palestinians was signed). It was a final farewell to thirteen centuries of marginalization of the Church and of Christians in the region. As suggested by the name itself , "fundamental", the Agreement is not complete in itself, and requires a number of additional agreements, so that the great promise that it represents can become a reality. John Paul II gave the mandate to sign a second agreement in 1997 guaranteeing full civil recognition to the legal status of ecclesiastical bodies, and then in 1999,  bless the start of negotiations (still ongoing) for an agreement for the protection of church property, especially the Holy Sites, and its tax status. The program includes agreements on other issues, overshadowed by the fundamental,, substantially on the residence of the clergy and religious from all parts of Catholicism; on religious chaplaincy in prisons, the military and in hospitals, on the fair presentation of Christ, Christianity and the Church in schools.

But the legal treaties must be quickened by a true dialogue, not only with the state, but with society, given the significance of the enormous impact on Israeli public of Pope John Paul II’s witness during the Pilgrimage of the Year 2000. So deeply affected were Israeli Jews by his person and his words that, although little more than coldly courteous on the eve of his arrival, at the Pope's departure, a large majority told pollsters they wanted him proclaimed Chief Rabbi of the Nation!

In order to persevere over time that beneficial influence rooted in the consciousness of the people, and make it lasting, in 2003 the Pope appointed the first Bishop for Catholics in Israel of Jewish expression. This Bishop (now dead – we are still waiting for a successor) rendered the encounter between the Church with the Hebrew-speaking Israelis "internal", he allowed the Church to relate to the components of Israeli society of Jewish expression, not as "foreign "but" within" their culture, their experience, and in their own language, as is normal in every people and nation.

Too few and poor are these words to describe the legacy of John Paul II on the Church in Israel. His memory, in particular invites us, challenges us to go further forward, build and dare again, always anew, always more. And through the intercession of the Blessed John Paul II, wholly of Mary because wholly of Christ, we can always ideally find ourselves beside the Blessed Virgin Mary of Nazareth, as she listens to and believes in the angel’s assurance "Nothing is impossible to God."

 

Father David-Maria A. Jaeger, Franciscan religious of the Custody of the Holy Land, is an Israeli citizen of Jewish nationality, and at fifty-six is the first Jew born in Israel to be ordained a Catholic priest (in 1986).
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