In 1986, Pope John Paul II became the first pope in history to visit a Jewish synagogue. There he spoke of how he deplored the “hatred and persecution” of the Jews throughout the centuries:
” ‘Legitimate plurality’ in society had been clearly affirmed. The Church had condemned anti-Semitism ‘by anyone’ – ‘I repeat: by anyone.’ The Council had declared that ‘no ancestral or collective blame can be imputed to the Jews as a people for ‘what happened in Christ’s passion.’ The Church insisted that there was no theological justification for discrimination against Jews, and taught that the Jews had been called by God ‘with an irrevocable calling.’ The Church had also learned that Catholics could not think about Catholicism without thinking about Judaism. The ‘Jewish religion,’ John Paul said, ‘is not extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain sense 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.”
In 1993, the pope presided over the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel. On 30 June 1999, prior to his visit to the Holy Land, the Pope publicly stated his positive views regarding Judaism. The papal letter also included the Pope’s intention to precede his visit to the Holy Land with a pilgrimage to Ur, the birthplace of Abraham who, as the Pope put it, “is our father in faith par excellence.” The Pontiff also wrote that “while this focus on the Holy Land expresses the Christian duty to remember, it also seeks to honor the deep bond which Christians continue to have with the Jewish people from whom Christ came…” and that “The Jubilee must be another opportunity to deepen the sense of bonds that unite us…” Regarding the Jewish heritage of Christianity, the Pope stated, “The Church cannot forget her roots. Indeed, she must return to them again and again if she is to remain completely faithful to God’s plan.” (June 30 1999) We want to thank the Pope for his enthusiastic support of Judaism and the Jewish people.