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We Remember

We Remember

On April 13, 1999, Rabbi Jack Bemporad delivered a major address on the Vatican's document "We Remember" at the Pontifical North American College in Vatican City, Rome, for Yom Ha Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). Following are excerpts of Rabbi Bemporad's talk:

We Remember opens with a letter from Pope John Paul II to Cardinal Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. In this letter, the Pope places the Pontifical Commissions document in its proper historical and theological context. The Pope begins by recalling the numerous occasions in which he has made mention of the special suffering of the Jewish people indicated by the term Shoah. He states, "The crime which has become known as the Shoah remains an indelible stain on the history of the century that is coming to a close."

Anyone familiar with the many statements of the Pope throughout his pontificate will be impressed by the continuing and profound reflections he has expressed on the plight of the Jewish people and their extreme suffering. Indeed, the Pope is quoted repeatedly in this document. If one simply reads the numerous statements Pope John Paul has made not just to Jewish groups, but to Catholic and other groups, one can see the anguish this polish Pope who himself, as a young man, witnessed the horror of Nazism first hand has felt about the unspeakable suffering of the Jewish people.

This suffering must be acknowledged and remembered but also given a theological significance. The significance of the suffering of the Jewish people must be seen as a warning cry to all of humanity that such atrocities should never happen again.

The Pope expresses this great witness of the Jewish people in many of his talks but most significantly in his remarks to the Jewish Community in Warsaw. He states,

"Be sure dear brothers that the Poles, this Polish Church, is in a spirit of profound solidarity with you when she looks closely at the terrible reality of the extermination - the unconditional extermination - of your nation, an extermination carried out with was you who suffered this terrible sacrifice of extermination...Above all because of this terrible experience, through which you have become a loud warning voice for all humanity, for all nations, all the powers of this world, all systems and every person.

"More than anyone else, it is precisely you who have become this saving warning. I think that in this sense you continue your particular vocation, showing yourselves to be still the heirs of that election to which God is faithful. This is your mission in the contemporary world before the peoples, the nations, all of humanity, the Church. And in this Church all peoples and nations feel united to you in this mission. Certainly they give great prominence to your nation and its suffering, its Holocaust, when they wish to speak a warning to individuals and to nations; in your name, the pope, too lifts up his voice in this warning. The Polish pope has a particular relationship with all this, because, along with you, he has in a certain sense lived all this here, in this land." (SP p.98-99 my italics)

The suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, the pope believes, must become a warning cry to all humanity so that such devastation will never happen again. He sees the suffering of the Jews within the context of the suffering servant passages of second Isaiah and the mission of Israel. Pope John Paul also connects this document to the examination of conscience and call to repentance, which the Pope stressed in his Tertio Millennio Adveniente (On the Coming of the Third Millennium) in preparation for the beginning of the Third Millennium.

This preparation "is based on the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God and neighbor. Therefore she (the Church) encourages her sons and daughters to purify their hearts through repentance of past errors and infidelities. She calls them, to place themselves humbly before the Lord and examine themselves on the responsibility which they too have for the evils of our time."

This repentance for past errors cannot but also address itself to the role of Christian Europe and the role of Catholics in contributing to the Shoah. The Pope hopes that this document "will indeed help to heal the wounds of past misunderstandings and injustices. May it enable memory to play its necessary part in the process of shaping a future in which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never again be possible."

The highest theological significance has been given by the Pope to the Shoah. He passionately states that not just Jews or Christians but all human beings shall never again be degraded and dehumanized and treated like non-persons. But that all human beings created in the divine image shall be given a place in the sun to live in peace and the prophetic vision be realized that "nation shall not lift up sword against nation or learn war anymore but each person shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree and none shall make them afraid."

For the complete text of Rabbi Bemporad's remarks, visit:

For more information on Rabbi Bemporad's interfaith efforts, visit:

“On April 13, 1999, Rabbi Jack Bemporad delivered a major address...”

Rabbi Jack Bemporad