In 1942, a Jewish couple in the Krakow ghetto entrusted their son to a
childless Polish Catholic couple, in order to save him from the Germans.
When the war was over the boy’s adoptive parents brought him to a
young priest to be baptized. When the young priest learned that the
orphan’s parents had asked that he be returned to the Jewish people,
the priest refused to baptize the boy. That priest, grew up in a Polish
town filled with Jews. Karol Wojtyla later became Pope John Paul II.
We should remember him as one who forever remained a friend of
the Jewish people.
On March 26, 2000, Pope John Paul II came to Jerusalem, to the heart of
Israel, to that city to which all Jewish hearts have turned for 2000 years.
He came to the Western Wall, adjacent to the Temple Mount.
As millions have done before him, he placed a note containing
a prayer into the cracks between the majestic stones of the Western Wall.
God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
To bring Your name to the nations;
We are deeply saddened
By the behavior of those
Who in the course of history
Have caused these children of Yours to suffer
And asking Your forgiveness
We wish to commit ourselves
To genuine brotherhood
With the people of the Covenant.
Pope John Paul II will always be remembered by the Jewish people
as the man who wrote this prayer and lived its words. These simple
short lines express the ideas by which he transformed the relationship
of the Roman Catholic Church towards Judaism and the Jewish people.
With these words, he became the first Pope in 2000 years to recognize
that the Jewish people remain the people of the Covenant.
Unquestionably, the long pontificate of John Paul II has bequeathed
many legacies to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. But the one that will
stand out in my mind forever, and with good reason, was his sincere and
passionate campaign to undo the many centuries of hatred and suspicion
that marked Catholic-Jewish relations and his dogged determination that
we must enter a new era of mutual respect, dialogue and trust.
He summarized his views in these words:
"As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham,
we are called to be a blessing for the world. This is the common task
awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us Christians and Jews, to be
first a blessing to one another."
To our many friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the campus Catholic
communities, I offer heartfelt condolences on the passing of their beloved
leader, Pope John Paul II. The thoughts and prayers of are with you at
Amherst, Smith, or beyond.
May the memory of Pope John Paul II be an eternal blessing.
Based on statements by Edah and the National Council of Synagogues.