A letter to my Catholic brothers and sisters

Oxford University biologist, Richard Dawkins, described two types of information that are intertwined and passed through the generations. There are the genes that pass on our DNA and there are “memes” which he refers to as “units of deep cultural information.”

One of the strongest of these memes is ethical monotheism which entered our collective unconscious approximately 3500 years ago when Moses brought the Word of God down to the people waiting at the foot of Mount Sinai.

“There were peals of thunder and flashes of lightning dense cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast” (Exodus 19:16). All were present to listen to the mighty Word from the heart of the fire, through the sound of trumpets of rolling thunder piercing the soul, circumcising the heart, a gift wrapped in mystery and heralded in awe.

Heinrich Heine wrote, “Moses created a nation that was to defy the centuries — a great eternal, holy people, the people of God, which could serve as the model for all humanity.”

The foundation of Western Civilization, our culture, is built on this ethic. Winston Churchill declared that the Bible gave us:

“a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together on that system and by that faith. There has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of our existing civilization.”

Unfortunately, another meme has grown beside it: anti-Semitism. It is pernicious, pervasive and relentless in its march in time from the accusation of the Jews killing Christ to Islamic anti-Semitism today, which echoes that 2000 year old Christian demonization and dehumanization of the Jewish people. This meme carries within a call to eliminate the Jewish people.

When Elias Hazineh, former President of Palestine House  stood on the edge of Queen’s Park in Toronto on al Quds Day 2013 and called out: “Kill the Jews in Jerusalem” there was silence. Bystanders said and did nothing of note. It was as if this were a part of everyday rhetoric. The Daily Beast reported that only two media outlets mentioned the incident: Sun Network and my blog on Huffington Post.

I didn’t hear indignation from the Catholic Church when those exhortations were made to kill Jews in the Holy Land.

And now Iran calls for the extinction of Israel. Six million Jews: the same number that were murdered while the world turned away during the Holocaust. I fear there remains amongst too many of us what St. Aquinas called an Ignorantia affectata.

Iran has the fire of desire to destroy Israel at any cost. In 2001 Iranian leader Hashemi Rafsanjani “speculated that in a nuclear exchange with Israel his country might lose 15 million people, which would amount to a small sacrifice from the one billion Muslims worldwide in exchange for the death of five millions Israeli Jews.” And soon will have the means to accomplish it if the West continues on its path of “negotiation” with one eye closed to the reality on the ground.

I believe the end of anti-Semitism must begin with those who first called the Jews the devil:

“Here the slayers of Christ gather together, here the cross is driven out, here God is blasphemed, here the Father is ignored, here the Son is outraged, here the grace of the Spirit is rejected. Does not greater harm come from this place since the Jews themselves are demons?…I am talking about the ungodliness and present madness of the Jews…Certainly it is time for me to show that demons dwell in the synagogue, not only on the place itself but also on the souls of the Jews.” (John Chrysostom)

The leading thinkers in Islam are now spreading the same venom. From the mouth of Sayyid Qutb, the leading political Islamist theorist, spiritual father of the Muslim Brotherhood, al Quaeda and one of the most authoritative Qur’anic interpreters and Islamic thinkers of modern times:

“The Qur’an spoke much about the Jews and elucidated their evil psychology…Thus they had killed, butchered, and expelled many of their prophets…The Jews perpetrated the worst sort of disobedience (against Allah), behaving in the most disgusting aggressive manner and sinning in the ugliest ways. Everywhere the Jews have been they have committed unprecedented abominations. “For such creatures who kill, massacre, and defame prophets one can only expect the spilling of human blood and any dirty means which would further their machinations and evilness.”

And in between well-known cultural icons in politics, philosophy and the arts had no qualms dehumanizing Jews: from Martin Luther, Voltaire, Kant, Richard Wagner, Marx, T.S. Eliot to Charles de Gaulle who in 1967 felt confident to refer to the Jewish people as “self-confident and domineering.”

Today, churches  like the United Church of Canada, are calling for a boycott of Israel, blaming Israel for all that is happening in the Palestinian territories while saying  not a word about the killing of Christians in Muslim countries and the massacre of Christians in Damascus whose ancestry is 2000 years old.

From Pope John XXIII and Nostra Aetate, Roman Catholicism has been reaching out to the Jewish People. From the Great Synagogue in Rome, April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II said

“…the Church of Christ discovers her “bond” with Judaism by ‘searching into her own mystery.’ The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”

Today, Pope Francis, a man I admire and respect and more importantly have come to trust and love expressed his regret for the past and continuing anti-Jewish actions. He wrote in “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel):

“Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.”

He added the Catholic Church holds “the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked.”

Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews from Rome the Holy Father said: “I’ve said it other times and I would like to repeat it now: It’s a contradiction that a Christian is anti-Semitic: His roots are Jewish,” said the Pope. “A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic! Let Anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman!”

From alpha to omega it is the holy work of the Holy Church to bring an end to the hate. We must not be left alone, again, to defend our right to exist. Once again the Nazi monster is rearing its head in a new gesture, the “quenelle.”

Your elder brothers and sisters are relying on you. As a Jewish woman, a chaplain, a spiritual care provider to people of all faiths, and one who loves my Catholic brothers and sisters, I beg you to speak out against Christian and Islamic anti-Semitism from your pulpits, in your weekly newsletters, in discussions with politicians, at inter-faith gatherings, to the media.

I am begging you to make it possible for the Jewish people to live in peace and I ask this of you in the name of my grandchildren.

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "
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