Popes at Yad Vashem: comparing John Paul and Benedict

May 11, 2009

Pope Benedict’s speech at the Yad Vashem today took a different approach from the speech his predecessor Pope John Paul delivered at the Holocaust memorial on 23 March 2000. Polish-born John Paul mentioned the Nazis twice while Benedict, a German, did not. John Paul recalled the fate of his Jewish neighbours; Benedict offered no personal wartime memories. John Paul spoke in a broader perspective, mentioning godless ideology, anti-Semitism, the “just” Gentiles who saved Jews and the shared spiritual heritage of Christians and Jews. Benedict took a narrower approach, meditating on the significance of names and speaking only of the Catholic Church rather than Christians in general.

Here are a few quotations comparing and contrasting the two speeches:

INTRODUCTION:

yad-jp2-1POPE JOHN PAUL: “In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah. My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the War. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbours, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain. Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale. We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.”

POPE BENEDICT:“I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name … I will give them an  everlasting name which shall not be cut off” (Is 56:5). This passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah furnishes the two simple words which solemnly express the profound significance of this revered place: yad – “memorial”; shem – “name”. I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God. One can rob a neighbor of possessions, opportunity or freedom. One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being.”

INTERFAITH RELATIONS:

POPE JOHN PAUL: “Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual patrimony, flowing from God’s self-revelation. Our religious teachings and our spiritual experience demand that we overcome evil with good. We remember, but not with any desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes and terrible crimes of the past. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place. The Church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being.”

yad-b16-1POPE BENEDICT: “The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating his love for all people, feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here. Similarly, she draws close to all those who today are subjected to persecution on account of race, color, condition of life or religion – their sufferings are hers, and hers is their hope for justice. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm – like my predecessors – that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of peace.”

CONCLUSION:

POPE JOHN PAUL:“I fervently pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in the twentieth century will lead to a new relationship between Christians and Jews. Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord, and look to Abraham as our common father in faith. The world must heed the warning that comes to us from the victims of the Holocaust and from the testimony of the survivors.”

POPE BENEDICT: “As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood. It is the cry of Abel rising from the earth to the Almighty… My dear friends, I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope.”

(Photo credits Jim Hollander, Ronen Zvulun

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When Pope Benedict XVI took a different approach, it’s because he believed that he doesn’t have to repeat what his predecessors had said. As a head of the Catholic Church, the Church founded by Christ, Pope Benedict XVI took the approach of a theologian on how God loves his people that the God of Abraham is a God of justice and equity and just as God heard the cry of Abel, he will also hear the cry of the holocaust victims.

On the other hand, we must remember that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the genius behind Pope John Paul II that even the Rabbis had acknowledged that fact. In fact, this is the reason why the Rabbis especially the conservative ones did not join in mocking Pope Benedict XVI with regard to Bishop Williamson remarks. They in fact called for the immediate restoration of the dialogue between Jews and the Catholic Church. I hope this will continue that we may be united as God wants us to be.

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