For the first time since the Apostle James served as bishop of Jerusalem, the Holy City has a Jewish bishop! Benedictine Abbot Jean-Baptiste Gourion was ordained as the new bishop at the Catholic church in Kiryat Ye’arim, above the Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem.
Bishop Gourion will be responsible for the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Israel, many of whom are of Jewish origin. Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris who is also a Jew, described Pope John Paul’s appointment of Bishop Gourion as one of prophetic courage. “After such a long time, Jerusalem finally has a Jewish bishop again!” he said.
The Pope’s appointment came during his historic six-day visit to Israel in the spring of 2000, when Gourion was an abbot. “My appointment serves to normalize relations between the Church and the people of Israel and to demonstrate that Christians and Jews are brothers,” Bishop Gourion told israel today.
Presiding over the ordination was the Pope’s personal envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah and the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi. Many Jewish friends of the new bishop were among the capacity crowd that filled the church.
Born in 1934 to a Jewish family in Oran, Algeria, Jean-Baptiste Gourion was baptized in Paris in 1958 and joined the Benedictine monastery of Bec Hellouin in Normandy. In 1976, the young monk was sent to rejuvenate the Monastery of the Resurrection in Abu Ghosh, where he became prior and later abbot. Bishop Gourion is highly respected not only among the Moslems in Abu Ghosh, but also by many Israelis.
Explaining how he, as a Jew, became a Catholic, he told us: “For me, Christianity and Judaism are the same. I didn’t have to leave Judaism to come to Christianity. The Jew and the Christian form the same body.” As such, he makes it clear that he will not engage in “missionary” activities.
Though he will primarily serve Israel’s Hebrew-speaking Catholics, Bishop Gourion is open to all believers in the Land, both Jew and Gentile. He calls his flock the “Christian Israeli Church,” which celebrates mass in Hebrew with Hebrew-speaking priests!
His Palestinian superior, Michel Sabbah, well known for his anti-Israel stance, opposed Gourion’s appointment; nevertheless, Sabbah had to participate in his ordination. Immediately after the ceremony, Bishop Gourion told Sabbah: “My friend, Cardinal Lustiger and I are two Jewish Christians, and like all Jews in the world, we’re known for fundamental solidarity with Israel, even if we sometimes don’t like the behavior of the Israeli government.”
After his ordination, israel today editor Aviel Schneider interviewed the new bishop.
israel today: Congratulations, Bishop Gourion.
Bishop Gourion: Thank you. Yes, I am the first Jewish bishop in Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel] in nearly 2,000 years!
israel today: What’s the difference between a Catholic Jew and a Messianic Jew?
Bishop Gourion: The Jewish Catholics belong to an historical church, whereas the Israeli Messianic Jews developed a new expression only 50 years ago. Apart from that, we have much in common in our faiths, including the Hebrew language.
israel today: Do you have contact with Messianic Jews in Israel?
Bishop Gourion: Even if we don’t have official contacts with Messianic Judaism, I personally have close ties with Messianic Jews in the country. All in all,we are one family.
israel today: Please tell me how your Jewish parents reacted in 1958 when you were baptized.
Bishop Gourion: They had a very hard time. They were shocked and saw me as a traitor. My brother and two sisters could hardly get over my belief in Jesus.
israel today: How did your family react to your new title of bishop?
Bishop Gourion: I have a very close relationship with my three siblings, who attended my ordination in Jerusalem and gave me God’s blessing. All in all, I think my appointment by the Catholic Church points to a new era between Jews and Catholic Christians. We have to learn to understand each other better. The Catholic Church has no intention of converting Jews to Christianity. Therefore, the Pope advocated a Jewish bishop in Israel.
israel today: Nevertheless, you represent the Catholic Church, which has been responsible for the death of thousands of Jews in the name of Jesus.
Bishop Gourion: The Pope, who heads the Catholic Church and directs its policies, asked the Jewish people for forgiveness both in Rome and Jerusalem. It’s in our hands to bring about reconciliation between Jews and Christians through our daily lives. What history destroyed, we must rebuild today.
israel today: Though I don’t want to mention any names, not every Catholic bishop wants to be reconciled with the Jewish people.
Bishop Gourion: That’s true, but we must create a new way of thinking in the Church, which isn’t possible overnight. Among the Jews as well, there are those who are positive toward Christians and others who are negative.
israel today: For both political and theological reasons, the Vatican was reluctant to recognize the Jewish state, establishing diplomatic ties with Israel just 10 years ago. One of the reasons is that the Catholic Church thinks of itself as God’s chosen people.
Bishop Gourion: Well, 40 years ago in the Second Vatican Council, the Church adopted a new theological position toward Israel as God’s chosen people. The Catholic Church does not replace the Jewish people with whom God made an eternal covenant.
israel today: But in the 1950s, how could you, as a Jew, join the Catholic Church, when it looked upon itself—and still does, at least in part—as God’s chosen people?
Bishop Gourion: I knew then that the Church’s theology was wrong concerning the Jewish people. But what was worse for me was being disowned by my Jewish family and friends for joining the Church.
israel today: The New Testament is a very Jewish book. But I often get the impression that the churches almost completely ignore the Old Testament.
Bishop Gourion: You’re right and that shouldn’t be. One cannot understand the New Testament without studying the Old Testament. This often resulted in theological misunderstandings.
israel today: Do you still think of yourself as part of the Jewish people?
Bishop Gourion: Sure. I see myself as a Jew.
israel today: As a Jew and a Catholic. So you want the best of both worlds?
Bishop Gourion: [laughs] Yes! That’s one way of seeing it!
from Arutz Sheva IsraelNational News.com - January 22, 2004
The Rabbis´ Meeting With Pope: Immediate Results
Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger spoke with Arutz-7's Uzi Baruch this morning about his visit last week, together with Chief Rabbi Rishon LeTzion Shlomo Amar, with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. He said that the meeting had more historic value than practical value, "but we were told in advance that this would be the case. In the Vatican, there is no such thing as decisions on the spot; everything takes much time, with committees and the like. Despite this, our meeting was a great departure from their regular protocol: It was planned only three days in advance, and in fact the Pope expressed opinions, though not officially; in addition, only the three of us were there, and photos were permitted - major changes from hundreds of years of protocol."
The meeting was called in order to discuss anti-Semitism, the redemption of our captives, and a mutual condemnation of terrorism. It had some unexpected ramifications, however:
"I can tell you something that the rabbi of Warsaw told me just this week - something very wondrous that resulted from this meeting. He said that after we met, he received dozens of calls from Poles who wished to confess their role in killing Jews during the Holocaust. The rabbi rebuffed them, though, saying he wasn't a priest for confession. But one man insisted and said he couldn't sleep at night, and told him that that at age 11, his uncle came from the front wearing an army uniform and wanted to show him how to shoot. So just for fun, he [the uncle] took 50 Jews and shot them on the spot. He, the 11-year-old, threw the bodies into some kind of hollow in the ground and covered them. For 62 years, he told no one, figuring that the Jews are not important. But when he saw on television how the Pope received the Chief Rabbis with such honor, calling them 'my older brothers' in front of the whole world, he said he realized that he did a great sin, and he therefore called the rabbi and said he wants to show him the 'burial' spot, and that he wants to atone by helping bring them to proper Jewish burial. This is something that came directly out of our meeting."
"There are certainly plenty of tensions in Church-Jewish relations from what has happened over the years," Rabbi Metzger said, "but the current Pope is the best one in history, in terms of the Jews."
Here is the ZENIT report on that same meeting
Israeli Rabbis Ask Pope to Establish Day of Dialogue With Jews
In Association with Celebrations of the "Year of Maimonides"
ROME, JAN. 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The chief rabbis of Israel expressed to John Paul II their desire that Catholics worldwide hold a Day of Dialogue with the Jews.
Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar also suggested to the Pope that he associate himself with a significant gesture to the "Year of Maimonides," the Jewish philosopher and theologian of Cordoba, Spain, who lived from 1135 to 1204.
The rabbis disclosed their requests to the Holy Father during a press conference held Friday in the Hall of the Council of the Great Synagogue of Rome, following their 35-minute meeting with the Pontiff.
The Day of Dialogue with the Jews has been observed in Italy for years; it was held last Saturday, on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. On the Day of Dialogue, Jews and Catholics meet for conferences, visits to synagogues, or gatherings to get to know one another better.
The rabbis expressed the wish that, on the occasion of the eighth centenary of the death of the great philosopher and theologian Moses Maimonides, the Holy See loan some of the philosopher's precious manuscripts that are kept in the Vatican Library, so that they can be exhibited in Israel.
Maimonides, who formulated the "Thirteen Articles of Faith," one of the diverse creeds to which numerous Orthodox Jews still adhere to today, is acknowledged as the most important Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages.
In "Guide of the Perplexed," written around 1190, Maimonides tries to harmonize faith and reason, reconciling dogmas of rabbinic Judaism with the rationalism of Aristotelian philosophy in its Arabic version, which includes Neoplatonic elements.
This work, in which Maimonides considers the nature of God and creation, free will, and the problem of good and evil, had great influence on Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great.
The rabbis also asked the Pope to donate an object of Jewish worship that the Church possesses. They said they left it up to the Pope to decide which one to donate.
During the audience, the rabbis spoke with the Holy Father in modern Hebrew. The interpreter to Italian was Obed Ben-Hur, the ambassador of Israel to the Holy See. They were accompanied in the audience by Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni of Rome.
During the press conference after the audience, the rabbis described the "cordial" and "friendly" character of the meeting. Rabbi Metzger said that the Pope paid close attention to everything that was said and was very warm when receiving his guests.
Rabbi Amar added the meeting had helped to increase "hope in reconciliation and fraternity between the two religions," as well as the "intensification of relations," emphasizing that the Pope and his collaborators have used strong words in the past to condemn anti-Semitism.
On the occasion of the 18th anniversary of John Paul II's visit to the synagogue of Rome, Rabbi Metzger renewed his invitation to the Holy Father to visit Jerusalem and recalled that this year is the 10th anniversary of the "fundamental agreement" between the Holy See and the state of Israel.
For Rabbi Amar, the greatest difficulty between individuals and communities is "the lack of communication," the impossibility to "understand or to "listen" to the other, so that each one remains fixed in his own position. "We must talk," the rabbi stressed.
The minute there is sincere talk, there is "a seed, the beginning of hope," he added. Interreligious meetings can "overcome the difficulties that emerge at the political level."
Rabbi Metzger revealed that during the papal audience they touched upon the subject of the struggle against anti-Semitism and terrorism.
"Yesterday they persecuted us because we didn't have a state and today because we have one," the rabbi said. He also said that he has appealed to Muslim religious leaders to halt the increase of terrorism that is waged under religious pretexts.
We are all "children of Abraham," Rabbi Metzger continued. It is impossible that "this Father be happy to see that brothers kill one another."
"Enough blood has been spilled!" he said.
It is important to sit around a table again to talk, Rabbi Amar insisted, as the solution starts when there is dialogue.
What is needed is patience and tolerance to build bridges that lead to dialogue and allow one to "hear the wisdom of others," when each one "thinks he is right," the rabbi said. "If we all had this attitude, the world would already be different."
Pope Tells Rabbis He Sees Hope in Dialogue
Israeli Embassy Calls Meeting "Historic"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II received the chief rabbis of Israel in audience and said the official dialogue between the Church and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel "is a sign of great hope."
The religious leaders traveled to Rome to attend the "Concert of Reconciliation," scheduled for Saturday in the Vatican.
"We must spare no effort in working together to build a world of justice, peace and reconciliation for all peoples. May Divine Providence bless our work and crown it with success," the Holy Father said today when addressing Ashkenazi Rabbi Jonah Metzgher, Sephardic Rabbi Slomo Amar and Chief Rabbinate director-general Oded Wiener.
At the start of his address, John Paul II said that in "the 25 years of my pontificate, I have striven to promote Jewish-Catholic dialogue and to foster ever greater understanding, respect, and cooperation between us."
"One of the highlights of my pontificate will always remain my Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which included intense moments of remembrance, reflection and prayer at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and at the Western Wall," he said.
In a statement, the Israeli Embassy to the Holy See described today's meeting as "historic," in which the chief rabbis returned the visit the Holy Father made to Jerusalem in the year 2000.
The rabbis said that during the meeting with the Pope, reference was made to the "phenomenon of anti-Semitism, emphasizing the present dimension of the words spoken in the past by the Pope," when he recommended "teaching consciences to consider anti-Semitism and all forms of racism as a sin against God and humanity."
The chief rabbis of Israel also asked the Pope "to exert his influence on the faithful in regard to the growing wave of terrorism that strikes the innocent and endangers reconciliation," and they thanked him for instituting "the day dedicated to Judaism" in the Catholic Church.
The rabbis also mentioned to the Pope the suffering of the families of prisoners of war and of Israeli soldiers who have disappeared, asking him to lend his moral authority to resolve these problems.
Saturday's concert, dedicated to reconciliation between Jews, Christians and Muslims, has been organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, with the support of the Knights of Columbus.
U.S. maestro Gilbert Levine will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in a performance of John Harbison's "Abraham" and parts of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony. The Polyphonic Choir of the State of Ankara, the Choir of the Krakow Philharmonic, and the Choir of the London Philharmonic will perform together with some members of Pittsburgh's Mendelssohn Choir.
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