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Judeo-Catholic Dialogue Is Important for Christians

Interview With Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger

VALENCIA, Spain, JUNE 9, 2005 (Zenit) - The Judeo-Christian dialogue promoted by Pope John Paul II helped Christians understand the importance of Judaism in knowing their own faith, says the retired archbishop of Paris.

In this interview with us, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who is Jewish by birth -- his mother died in Auschwitz -- highlights the important achievements of John Paul II in fostering relations with the Jews.

Q: You are in Spain, among other reasons, to give a talk on the importance of the dialogue between Jews and Christians. What is the present state of the dialogue between Jews and Christians and what progress has been made, especially during John Paul II's pontificate?

Cardinal Lustiger: Pope John Paul II's endeavor was gigantic. The Second Vatican Council had already characterized the Church's position in regard to other non-Christian religions and, in particular, to the Jews.

Subsequently, in the decree "Nostra Aetate," Pope John Paul II followed this position in an amazing way, because he did not address the question only as a diplomat or as a man hoping to establish contact and relations of good will, but, at the same time, as a mystic, theologian, a man of real charity, a man of faith, a disciple of Christ and above all as Pope, as Successor of Peter.

He showed that this Judeo-Christian dialogue is not simply an endeavor to establish good relations, but that it implies discovering, in the existence of the Jewish people, the fundamental aspect of Revelation, because it is a question of the alliance God made with his people, without which the mystery of Christ, in whom we believe and which constitutes his Church, would lose all its consistency.

The Pope reminded us who we are by making us understand who the Jews are. And he taught us to understand that if we love Christ and follow him, we cannot be contemptuous of his people and of the grace given to them.

This gigantic endeavor of Pope John Paul II has not only touched the hearts of Christians, but has been understood by the most diverse Jews, from the most orthodox to the most removed from religious practice, the most secularized. They all understood that a loyal man of God existed, whom they could trust.

I think that today, after centuries of massacres and death, which have not been forgotten, they have real confidence in the person of the Pope, who represents the Church.

Q: What is the significance of this dialogue in general, from your personal point of view, given your knowledge of both worlds and your experience of it in your personal life?

Cardinal Lustiger: It is a real spiritual adventure, because the extraordinary diversity of the currents of Jewish thought refers us to all sorts of different aspects of our own faith and religious practice, and we are only at the beginning of this dialogue!

We have arrived at a point in which this dialogue can begin to exist in-depth, because trust has been won, or, more accurately, re-established. And we have no idea where this dialogue will lead us.

It is not a question of the Jews becoming Christians or vice versa; it is about what they have in common, not only as the object of faith, but also in regard to attitudes and conduct. It might lead to clarifying the differences between the two.

For example, Jesus insists very much that he who loves the Father and Christ must obey his commandments, that he who does not do the will of the Father does not really love him, so we must obey the commandments. It's what St. Augustine said, "Love and do what you will," which is a mystical summary. But St. John of the Cross reminds us that we do not love if we do not practice the commandments.

Christians are tempted to forget the need to obey the commandments as an act of love, as the very test of love, and to see how at present the Jews practice the commandments in their way, literally, because they are God's commandments, which makes us reflect. When Jesus says that he keeps the commandments, he asks us to observe them as he does. It is only an example.

Q: Why do you say that this dialogue is especially important for Christians?

Cardinal Lustiger: I think that this dialogue leads us Christians to the integrity and truth of the Christian faith.

Imagine it as a ship, and imagine anchor. If we are not attached to the anchor, we might drift and get lost. But we do not get lost if we are fastened to the anchor, which is not the ship, but which is necessary for its balance, and the tension caused by its resistance helps us to remain within ourselves.

It is amazing to see that in face of this great "drift" of modern, present, contemporary civilization, to which the Second Vatican Council intended to respond ...

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