Clifford Longley had one of the more engaging views of John Paul’s papacy. He asks difficult questions about the state of the western church, but looks at some of the more profound moves he made in terms of reconciliation with other religions, most notbly Judaism:
…the reality is that he pushed the frontiers of Catholic teaching with regard to the Jews beyond the limits most thought possible. He has of course reiterated the teaching of the second Vatican council that the Jews cannot be blamed of the death of Christ, and that anti-semitism is a grave sin. But he has gone much further, coming close to declaring Judaism an open channel to God, a valid parallel to Catholicism. As a result the Catholic church has officially stopped evangelising the Jews. For them – and them alone, frankly – conversion is no longer deemed necessary for salvation.
This revolution was encapsulated in the few words of the famous prayer which he posted into a niche in the Western Wall in Jerusalem during his millennium year visit to Israel. This is the most solemn and serious method pious Jews use to communicate with their God. By his action, Pope was declaring that the method works. By his words, he was undoing 2,000 years of Christian supersessionism. No matter what generations of churchmen had written and said and the clear impression in the New Testament to the contrary, the ancient Jewish covenant with God was still in force. The prayer simply stated: “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behaviour 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.” This was the high moral moment of his reign. If all else is forgotten, this deserves to be remembered in a thousand years.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty