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Should Catholic Evangelization Target Jews?
A National Catholic Register Symposium

An abridged version of this full text was published Oct. 6-12, 2002.

edited by JOHN ZMIRAK

WASHINGTON — The Catholic dialogue with Jewish believers has been fraught with difficulty since the Church’s earliest days. And when the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. bishops’ office recently released a preliminary statement, “Reflections on Covenant & Mission,” it generated a storm of controversy over issues that lie at the very heart of the Christian mystery. Said the bishops’ committee document: “[C]ampaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.”

The scholars contacted by the Register for this symposium were eager to respond in depth. The Register published a sampling from their comments, the full texts of which follow.

The Bishops’ View


Associate Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and

Interreligious Affairs, National Conference of Catholic Bishops:  

Our Secretariat has received quite a number of letters and emails, and seen critiques and appreciations on a number of websites and in the media. It is gratifying to see the interest and concern expressed by Catholics in the efforts of a well-qualified dialogue team which was asked to undertake the task of bringing together the various strands of Church teaching on Jews and Judaism, however well or poorly they feel that team accomplished what was asked of it.

Obviously, a brief note such as the Register asked me to prepare cannot do justice to all of the arguments presented, whether pro or con. There does seem, underneath the fractious rhetoric of some, to be emerging a pattern of critical response worth contemplating as we move forward together in our discernment of what is, after all, one of the sacred mysteries of the faith.

For as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated, it is when “pondering her own mystery” that the Church encounters the Mystery of Israel, a statement that can be made of no other non-Christian religion. First, few of the critiques attempt to grapple with the significant body of reflections of the Holy Father on Jews and Judaism over the past quarter of a century. This is odd, because by all accounts this area is one of the central concerns of the present pontificate. The Holy Father has called the Jewish witness to the Holocaust, for example, a “saving warning” to all humanity, including the Church, which reveals God’s people, the Jews, to be “still the heirs of that election to which God is faithful.” He has spoken, time and again, of how the Church’s basic posture to the Jewish People in our time must be one of respectful dialogue, as he himself has exemplified in his prayerful visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome (the first pontiff since St. Peter to pray with the Jews of Rome in their synagogue) and even more in Jerusalem. The pope’s words and deeds, I would argue, have not been mere publicity stunts but deeply significant statements of faith, the meaning of which Catholics are called to ponder as a “sign of the times.”

 Second, few of the critiques have taken into account the progress in biblical studies since the Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate called for a reevaluation of the positive elements of the New Testament’s attitudes toward Jews and Judaism, especially in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, chapters 9-11. These studies have shed new light on ancient verses, as is the way of Catholic tradition, renewing them for our time and for future generations. Some of the more significant results of these Catholic studies are embodied today in the recent statement of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scripture in the Christian Bible”, This text has been available since November in French and Italian and since April in English.

Third, there does appear to be an overwhelming consensus, even among the critical, that for pastoral reasons stemming from the long, often tragic history of Christian mistreatment of Jews, there should be no aggressive, organized proselytizing of Jews under Church auspices. Any such efforts, given that history, would almost inevitably threaten the freedom of faith relationship between God and the Jews that Catholics cherish. The problem many have with “Reflections” lies in its assertion, based upon statements especially of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, that there may be theological as well as pastoral reasons for this restraint. These reasons, as adduced by “Reflections” flow from the respect Catholics give to Judaism–and Judaism alone among world religions–as a faith-response to God. This in itself is hardly an arguable theological affirmation, being firmly embedded in Church teaching as seen, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 839). The controversy appears to flow from understanding the Covenant between God and the Jewish People, to use the word used by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission, as in some meaningful sense “salvific.”

 If the Covenant perdures and has not been replaced or superseded by the Christian Covenant, then what can it be called other than “salvific” for Jews? Is not God true to his word? Cannot the Jews rely on the truth of God’s word to them? Supersessionism, readers should recall, was declared a heresy by the Church in the second century when Marcion of Pontus first proposed it. It still is. So, if I may, I would challenge those who would criticize Cardinal Kasper, the Pontifical Commission, and “Reflections” to come up with better language, a better theological framework, if you will, by which we can affirm God’s truth to Israel and to us, for it has the same Source. I do not believe that an affirmation of the universal salvific validity of the Christ event and the consequent realization that in the Church one finds the fullness of the means of salvation necessarily leads us to hold that God has broken His word by rejecting the undying hope and faith His ineffable grace and inscrutable will have instilled in the people He chose for Himself so long ago. Granted, we deal here with mysteries of the faith, as Paul concludes in Romans 11, that are in the last analysis beyond our ken. But we have, as the People of God of the New Covenant, to wrestle to discern their meaning in a constructive and positive way, one which, just perhaps, articulates the theological vision behind our common pastoral instinct at the beginning of the Third Millennium of our most ancient, most vibrant dialogue of faith.

A number of the better critiques, in my opinion, go after what they feel is an ambiguous use of terminology in “Reflections” regarding key terms (evangelization, mission, fulfillment, etc.). But virtually all of the critiques have exactly the same problem with precision of language themselves, for example in failing to take into account the crucial distinction in Dominus Iesus between faith (a response to divine revelation, i.e., Judaism and Christianity) and belief (derived from human wisdom and insight, i.e., all other non-Christian religions).

I am more than happy to posit that there are terminological weaknesses in “Reflections.” But I think those weaknesses, and the presence of the same problem in those who would criticize them, illustrates the great need the Church has right now for the very best of our systematic theologians to begin to work on these issues with the seriousness they deserve. We are, in all of this, not aiming to “score points” over against one another, but to be able to articulate better, if only a little better, essential truths of the faith that we ignore, as history as shown, at the peril of our very souls.

Finally, I think all Catholics owe a debt of gratitude to the Catholic scholars commissioned in our dialogue with the National Council of Synagogues, who have served us so well in raising faithfully to our attention these crucial, theologically pregnant matters.  

A Man from Mars


professor at the Department of Government at Georgetown University, and author of many books, including Does Catholicism Still Exist? (Staten Island, N. Y.: Alba House, 1994) and The Distinctiveness of Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982).

The Document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission” issued by the National Council of Synagogues and Delegates of the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs is fifteen single-spaced pages—three pages of introduction, the Catholics with five pages, the Jews with seven. Suppose I am someone from Mars who never heard either of Judaism or Catholicism. I am asked to give my impressions of the text. What would I conclude?

In the document, two evidently different groups explain that they have nothing to do with each other. The Jewish section logically makes no mention of Christ at all. The word “Christian” is mentioned about five times. The two groups might possibly be related in that they could conceivably have some common duties to reform the earth. But religiously, they both have separate ways.

The Jewish section tells us about the people chosen by Yahweh. They are to remain what they always were, but they have some universal mission to the whole world. This latter mission is generally described in this worldly terms. Nothing is said of dying or eternal life. The world is to be perfected into “the Kingdom of the Almighty,” though no indication of when or how is evident.

The expression, “a world to come,” is used, but it is not clear that its reference is not to some perfected earthly society. Take this statement from the Jewish section:

“ ... Any mission of Christians to the Jews is in direct conflict with the Jewish notion that the covenant itself is that mission. At the same time, it is important to stress that notwithstanding the covenant, there is no need for the nations of the world to embrace Judaism. While there are logical verities such as belief in God’s unity, and practical social virtues that lead to the creation of the good society that are possible and necessary for humanity at large to grasp, they do not require Judaism in order to redeem the individual or society. The pious of all the nations of the world have a place in the world to come.”

The word “redemption” is used in the document but no hint of a redeemer. “We live in an unredeemed world that longs for repair.”

The Roman Catholics think that they have something to do with the Old Testament, but affirm that the original covenant is not revoked. The Jewish covenant is the origin of Jewish spiritual vitality. The argument is made from Gamaliel that “only undertakings of divine origin can endure” as a justification for respect for Judaism. This same principle would justify also religions older than Christianity or even Judaism. This principle is in fact used by some theologians to leave the older religions unevangelized also.

There is a “new covenant.” Christians are supposed to bring the “good news” to all nations. However, “evangelization” does not necessarily mean baptism or coming into the Church. Interreligious dialogue is “devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism.” The Christians maintain that they have some “spiritual linkage” with the Jews. The Christians and Jews prepare “for the coming of the kingdom of God ... even if Jews do not conceive of this task christologically.”

Professor Tommaso Federici notes that “in the Church no organization of any kind (is) dedicated to the conversion of Jews.” This is as it should be. Walter Cardinal Kasper interprets the term “mission” to go forth to teach all “nations” to mean only to non-Jews. The Jews already have a covenant with God. The Jewish covenant is salvific for them. A twofold “mission” seems to exist within one “covenant.” Both Jews and Catholics have a mission to the whole world. The Jewish people alone can articulate their mission.

Evangelization “no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history.” The Jews already have a “saving covenant with God.” The Catholics do “witness” to their “faith in the presence of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ to Jews and to all peoples,” but with no violation of religious freedom or effort to convert.

The conclusion is that “Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God.” And finally, the Church “now recognizes that Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity.”

Any common sense reading of this document indicates that the Jewish writers see no reason to deal with Christianity at all, except perhaps defensively. The Catholic writers, while they cannot avoid the fact that their religion had something to with Judaism, are at pains to see no purpose in any further relationship. At least in these pages, both seem to conceive the “kingdom of God” as primarily “this worldly.” For both, this Kingdom itself may point to something else, but it is very difficult to see this in context.

This is what these particular Catholic and Jewish leaders have concluded after having talked to each other twice a year for “more than two decades.” For both groups, as far as I, as a man from Mars on reading the text, can judge, the being and figure of Christ, whether He is in fact the Messiah or Son of God, has little or nothing to do with the relation of these groups to one another.  

Their Joy is Boundless


Jewish convert, Professor of Philosophy, Our Lady of Corpus Christi College and editor of The Ingrafting: The Conversion Stories of Ten Hebrew-Catholics and Bread from Heaven: Stories of Jews who found the Messiah (New Hope, Kentucky: Remnant of Israel)

I can think of no Jew who believes that Jesus is the Messiah who does not experience anti-Semitism and the Nazi Holocaust as a deep cause of suffering. I can think of no Hebrew-Catholic who has not rejoiced to see the attempts of the Church in the 20th century to heal wounds caused by atrocities against Jews of misguided and sinful Catholics. The tremendous efforts of Pope Pius XII to save Jewish people even at the risk of Catholic lives has been followed by innumerable efforts on the part of Catholics to overcome anti-Semitism. Which of us did not thrill to think of John Paul II sitting in the synagogue of Rome addressing affectionately his elder brothers?

On the other hand, when I read that the only response to those of the Jewish religion should be respect, I am flabbergasted. How can any Catholic of Jewish or other origins not yearn for all human persons to know the beauty, holiness and redemption of our Savior Jesus Christ? Over and over again in the Gospels we see the desire of Jesus to reach his own people. When Simeon holds the infant savior in his arms he proclaims “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2: 30-32)

Throughout the centuries after the death of Christ, misguided and sinful Catholics have thought it pious to persecute Jews of their times for the crucifixion, certainly plotted by some Jewish leaders of that time. Along with a holy desire on the part of Christians, burning in the heart of St. Paul, for the conversion of the people of the Old Testament, there was also sometimes the use of a form of evangelization now universally seen to be illegitimate - namely trying to force conversions on others through pressure. However, there were also efforts throughout the same centuries by saints and other Catholics to evangelize the Jewish people out of desire that they experience the joy of knowing God the Son. Why did he come and die for them if he thought that their knowledge of God the Father was enough without him?

When the present reflection document speaks about barring “campaigns that target the Jews” not being acceptable do they mean forcing conversions, in which case all would agree, or do they try to make it seem that any group that is designed to attract and inform Jewish people of the coming of Jesus, their Messiah, is illegitimate? The purport of the document is to persuade Catholics that true inter-faith dialogue means ceasing to try to attract and inform. But this is contrary to all the documents about evangelization of all peoples that have come from the Church in the 20th century including the Catechism and the recent document from the Vatican “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scripture in the Christian Bible” by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. All these documents carefully explain that while it is necessary to preach and teach on the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion in such a way as to avoid blaming all the Jewish people of that time or Jewish people of later times, just the same the Church cannot be true to itself without wishing the Jewish people could find the truth about Jesus as the Messiah.

I, myself, a Jewish person brought up as an atheist, would never have found Jesus had not zealous Catholics of the Dietrich Von Hildebrand circle reached out to me in love and brought me to Jesus. Most of my family followed me into the Church. If you read accounts of such famous Hebrew-Catholics as Edith Stein, Rabbi Zolli of Rome, Cardinal Lustiger, you will realize that the joy of the Jew who finds the Jewish Christ, the Jewish Mary, and the Jewish apostles is boundless.

The document for reflection suggests that the greatest fruit of inter-faith dialogue would be plans for working together for social justice. A wonderful goal in itself. Praise be to God for all the work for social justice accomplished by Jews and Christians together. An orthodox Jewish daughter of a rabbi carries a sign in front of abortion clinics “Hitler laughs in hell every time a Jewish woman has an abortion.” I don’t see so many reform and conservative Jews working to stop the abortion Holocaust in spite of photographs of tortured babies as horrifying as any from Auschwitz. May the Holy Spirit open Catholic eyes to all forms of anti-semitism, from jokes to holocausts, and may the Holy Spirit open Jewish eyes to the love of Jesus for them, the loving motivation of most Catholics who long for the finding of Christ by his own people, and respect for life from womb to tomb.  

All Israel Will Be Saved

Scholar, John Paul II Intercultural Forum,

John Paul II Cultural Center, Washington, D.C.  

The latest joint statement of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB and the National Council of Synagogues has received much distorted attention in the media. Some of this was corrected by the remarks of Cardinal William H. Keeler to the effect that the statement was intended to encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics in the United States, and does not represent a formal position taken by the USCCB or the Bishops’ Committee.

The imprecisions in the document and, to some extent, the confusion generated by the media reflect the present state of Catholic – Jewish dialogue stirred into motion as it is by the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate and the remarkable words and actions of John Paul II interpreting and giving flesh to that document. It must also be remembered that this dialogue, taking place in the shadow of the Shoah, and looking back over centuries of mutual antagonism, is still in its initial stages. There are good remarks concerning collaboration on ethical and humanitarian issues. Nevertheless, the lack of theological clarity, I refer particularly to the Catholic side of the “Reflections,” is unfortunate.

I would like to consider here only one point, that of the irrevocability of the Covenant between God and Israel. The teaching is undoubtedly that of the New Testament; one found clearly in Romans 11:28-29: “In regard to the Gospel, they [the Jews] are enemies for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved because of the Fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [literally “{are given}without regret”).” This line teaches that there will always be an Israel, a people defined by a Covenant relation to God; the irrevocability of the gifts and the calling are due to God’s love for his people (see also Rom 9:25). This calling, from a New Testament point of view, includes the call to the Gospel addressed to those who are always God’s beloved people. As Paul goes on to explain, there will come a time, in God’s inscrutable plan, when Israel “too may now be shown mercy as a result of the mercy shown to you [the Gentiles].” (Rom 11:31).

What is fulfilled, in the New Testament sense, is neither absorbed nor superseded: it is perfected. Christ is the “goal” of the Law, not as its termination but as that toward which it moves (see Rom 10:4). One way to understand how the Ancient Covenant continues to exist in the Christian dispensation is to consider it to be “sublated,” that is, taken up into a greater context which needs it. Here is how Bernard Lonergan describes sublation which, as can be seen, is far from the Hegelian notion: “What sublates goes beyond what is sublated, introduces something new and distinct, yet so far from interfering with the sublated or destroying it, on the contrary needs it, includes it, preserves all its proper features and properties, and carries them forward to a fuller realization within a richer context.” (Method in Theology, p. 241 italics added). It is in this sense that Christ fulfills the Covenant and “love (agape) is the fulfillment of the Law.” (Rom 13:10).

Up to now, Israel, as a covenanted people still exists, but not as sublated into Christ. As God’s plan has unfolded over the past two millennia we have always with us the actual, historical Jewish people, and this too is a sign that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable. The completion of God’s plan as we Christians understand it has yet to take place, and this will somehow include both the perdurance of the Jewish people and their unique place within the Church. For, in the perspective of the New Testament, it is the Gentiles who are “co-heirs, co-bodied, co-sharers in the promise, in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Eph 3:6). The word “somehow” above expresses our reverence toward the mystery of Israel. For our part, we Christians must witness in love to the fidelity of God to his people who has protected them from our sins against them, and we must strive to be worthy of bringing about that plan by which “all Israel will be saved.” (Rom 11:26).  

Will Jewish Agnostics Like Christians More?

by Dr. Paul Gottfried,

Professor of Political Science, Elizabethtown College, author of After Liberalism: Mass Democracy In The Managerial State (Princeton University Press) and The Conservative Movement (Twayne’s Publishing).

 At least at first glance, “Reflections on the Covenant and Mission” has much to recommend it as a high-minded statement of Judeo-Catholic friendship. The Jewish and Catholic contributors to this document affirm the covenantal relation of both religious groups to the same God of revelation. The Jews are held to be “a people called into existence by God through loving election” while Catholics, and more generally Christians, are called to witness “to the experience of Christ crucified and resurrected.” Although the Bishops’ Committee agrees not to target Jews as objects of conversion since their “distinctive witness” presumably remains in force, Christians will continue to witness to their faith “in the presence of God’s kingdom through Jesus Christ to the Jews and other peoples.” Clearly such language is intended to pacify Jewish feelings about any Christian claim to having superseded the Jewish national covenant. Moreover, the remarks attributed to Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, that the Jews since the time of Constantine were “isolated and discriminated against in the Christian world,” suggests something about the social context of this apparently unifying document.

 Needless to say, there are problems with taking theological positions on the basis of not wishing to give offense. My recently published book, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, examines exhaustively the lengths to which white Christians, primarily Protestants but also Catholics, have pushed themselves in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, to express culpability for real or fictitious acts of unkindness against other groups. Although some emotional need (probably masochism) may require these expiatory statements, they do not lead to mutual respect among diverse ethnic-religious communities. This document was almost entirely an attempt by Catholic bishops to patch up differences with American Jews, who are disproportionately in the forefront of legal actions and organizational activity to curb Christian influence in American society. Many wonder whether such “reflections” will conciliate those they are intended to reach, particularly since they claim that Jews and Christians agree on theological questions that Jewish liberals, and indeed many Jewish neoconservatives who, as the editorial in the Sunday New York Post (September 8) indicates, persist in seeing Christianity as inherently more “vicious and intolerant” than Islam, cannot possibly believe. It is hard to see how this document, full of what are supposedly shared faith claims, will make Jewish agnostics like Christians any better. It is equally problematic whether Orthodox Jews will run to embrace the specifically Christian revealed truths that the document proclaims. Why should they unless they accept the historical truth of Christian revelation?

Allow me also to note that the recent expression of remorse by the Holy Father for the history of Catholic anti-Semitism has not initiated on the Jewish side an era of good feeling toward Christians. From the free-swinging attempts of Daniel Goldhagen to blame Christianity, and most specifically Pius XII, for the Holocaust, an extended hyperbole to which the Zionist, neo-liberal New Republic devoted half of one of its issues in February, to the accusations leveled by prominent Jewish leaders, particularly Abe Foxman in the U.S. and Daniel Luzzatti in Italy, against imaginary medieval Catholic causes for leftist and Islamic support for the Palestinians, there is if anything an inverse relation between Catholic prelates apologizing to Jews and Jewish sympathy for the Church. Besides, the victims of Catholic anti-Semitism are now gone, while those who do the apologizing, like John Paul II, have absolutely nothing to ask Jews to forgive.

 One detail in the document about which I have to nitpick concerns the Noahic Commandments, that, according to at least one Rabbinic tradition, Jews expect other nations to observe as a sign of human decency. These commandments, according to the Reflections, prohibit “incest.” Actually the prohibition, taken from Leviticus 18, pertains to the various forms of gelut aroyoth, sexual perversions, including homosexuality, that carry a death sentence and struck the ancient Jews as an “utter abomination.” Undoubtedly if this document is aimed at liberal Jews, one would not want to push this moral position too hard. Jewish liberals are hardly likely to enter an alliance with Catholics on the basis of their shared biblically based revulsion for gays. Indeed by the time this document is reviewed by the Vatican, it may no longer be safe to assume, on either side, a common front against incest.  

The Church Must Proclaim Christ

Executive Director, Remnant of Israel, editor, Hear O Israel!:

Catholic-Jewish dialogue is a worthwhile effort, even though it is gravely obstructed by ignorance and confusion on both sides. The Holy Father and Vatican officials leading this dialogue have asked for an honest theological dialogue. The recent “Reflections” from the committee of Catholics and Jews has shed very little light on the theological discussion while greatly increasing the ignorance and confusion on both sides. It would help to keep in mind a few facts.

1. Nostra Aetate is a Vatican II document and must be interpreted and implemented in accord with all the other documents of Vatican II. Any interpretation or claim based on Nostra Aetate is in error if it contradicts other Vatican II documents.

2. Pope Paul VI established a Vatican Commission to implement Nostra Aetate and placed this Commission under the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity—which is significant in itself. This Commission has issued three official documents providing the authentic Magisterial norms for implementing Nostra Aetate. These official documents have repeated emphatically that the Church, BY HER NATURE, must proclaim Christ. This is integral to the Church’s nature and cannot change.

3. All people are called by God to sincere conversion of heart: this was the theme of the Great Jubilee. No individual Catholic or group should be concerned with targeting anyone for conversion. Pope John Paul II made this very clear in the Great Jubilee: God’s call to personal conversion is universal. God converts people; the Church’s mission — and the mission of every individual Catholic — is to proclaim Christ.

4. Honest theological dialogue must be based on the true identity of those involved. The Church’s true identity is stated in #2 above.

5. Pope John Paul II issued an Encyclical, Redemptoris Missio—25 years after Nostra Aetate—to clarify the Church’s mission to evangelize and the role of dialogue in this mission. Less than one year after the Encyclical was issued, a clarification was published jointly by the Pontifical Council for Evangelization and for Non-Christian Religions. Both the encyclical and the official clarification stated that dialogue is a form of evangelization and is included in the Church’s mission. In other words, the papal Encyclical and the clarifying document both affirmed that the Church’s mission is to proclaim Christ. Dialogue with Jews is an acceptable means of this mission when the Church’s true identity is evident. Any attempt to silence proclamation of the Gospel —whether in honest dialogue or otherwise —is contrary to all contemporary Magisterial Teaching.

6. Jews do not agree with each other on what it means to be Jewish. The Catholic Church is not clear about what it means by the term “Jew.” Neither Catholics nor Jews are clear about the meaning of the terms: “Jew,” “Jewish,” and “Judaism.” However, it is universally agreed that Jesus of Nazareth is Jewish. The Holy Family is Jewish. The Twelve Apostles were all Jewish. Jesus and His disciples practiced Judaism and their followers practiced Judaism for many years after Jesus was crucified.

7. Catholics AND Jews must enter again into the Jewish dialogue of the first century between the Jewish followers of Jesus and the Jews who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. We must enter into this dialogue with wisdom and compassion born from 2000 years of hatred and violence (from the crucifixion of Jesus to the slaughter of millions by anti-Jewish Europeans). We must enter into an honest theological dialogue knowing that God calls every person to conversion.

8. We must ask: who is Jesus of Nazareth? Is He the Promised Messiah of Israel, the King of the Jews, or should we look for another? Israel Zolli was the Chief Rabbi of Rome during WWII and he asked these questions. We must follow Zolli in openly seeking answers to the question: Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Zolli remained Jewish when he professed that Jesus of Nazareth is the Suffering Servant spoken of by Isaiah, the Jewish Lamb of God who takes away everyone’s sins.

9. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, He quoted the Shema (from Deuteronomy): “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might.” All are called to love God. Jesus proclaimed the Good News of Salvation; the Church, by Her nature, must proclaim the Good News of God’s boundless and eternal merciful love for all people.  

Only the Lost Sheep of Israel  

Jewish convert, founder of the apostolate
Second Exodus, author of Second Exodus (Foreword by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has on its web site a committee document, Reflections on Covenant and Mission, which proposes that campaigns targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church because Jews live in a separate saving covenant and therefore do not need Jesus. Let us look more closely.

Jesus said, “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Could they have been the Jews who did not believe?

Jesus, during all His public ministry, evangelized only Jews. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5) “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) He told Nicodemus, a devout Jew and member of the Sanhedrin, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:5) That alone is rock solid evidence that Jews do not live in a saving covenant apart from God’s Messiah.

Rabbi Y’shua, Jesus, was the most Jewish Jew of all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 578, tells us, “Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all-embracing detail ... He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly.” Of the 613 Torah mitzvot (commandments), 102, more than on any other subject, address Sacrifices and Offerings. That does not count the 30 mitzvot on Priests and Levites or the 33 on Temple, Sanctuary and Sacred Offerings. Sacrifice was the highest form of Jewish worship, the only one for which a priest was required, the only one for which he entered the Holy of Holies. Jesus fulfilled the Torah mitzvot on sacrifices through His Final Sacrifice, after which the Temple sacrifices ceased forever. Jesus’ followers, through the Church that He instituted, have re-presented His Final Sacrifice ever since, and will until the end of time.

God had told Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the generations for an everlasting covenant.” (Genesis 17:7) God explained, “Every male among you shall be circumcised … So shall my covenant with you be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” (Genesis 17:10-13) Circumcision was an indelible character on the body that could not be seen from the outside, the great pre-figuration of the Sacrament of Baptism, which imparts an indelible character on the soul. St. Paul, educated by the great Rabbi Gamaliel and a Jew among Jews, told us, “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) The Jewish people do indeed have an irrevocable role in salvation history: to bear witness to the Messiah. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, 674, “The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by all Israel, for a hardening has come upon part of Israel.”

Let this be clear: Jews can find salvation, as Jews. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257, tells us, “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.” However, it adds, at 1260, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” But the salvation they find is through Jesus’ redemptive Final Sacrifice.

Reflections on Covenant and Mission confuses what we should do with how we should do it. Evangelizing all people is our highest responsibility. Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 8, 1975, 14, says: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” But we should do it respectfully. My web site,, offers clear direction on how to evangelize Jews, using a book specifically written for that purpose.  

Intended Only for Gentiles?


President, the Association of Hebrew Catholics.

In general, I would characterize my response to the document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission” as being embarrassed and irritated. I am embarrassed that Catholic leaders, who have been meeting for more than two decades, could produce a document that appears inconsistent with our Catholic faith and, it seems to me, to invite disrespect and division.

I am irritated that a document that should have been submitted to the Bishops, who have the authority to judge its contents, was instead released to the public, ignoring the negative effects on the faith of Catholics and the understanding of non-Catholics.

As a Hebrew Catholic, I am quite aware of the tragic history of Catholic Jewish relations and of the history of past abuses with regard to evangelizing the Jewish people. I am grateful beyond all telling that, since Vatican II, the Magisterium has been addressing the entire People of God to engender a new positive attitude and appreciation of the Jewish people.

I am also aware of the heroic struggles of many Jews who have journeyed to their Messiah and His Church, suffering the alienation of their people, their friends and their family; their entrance into the Church at times enabled only through the direct intervention of the Almighty.

Now, 2,000 years after the death and resurrection of our Lord, in the name of friendship, respect, solidarity on various social causes, and witness to the one God, this document suggests that the Jewish people do not need Yeshua for they have their own salvific covenant. Have we already “progressed” beyond the 1985 document which states: “Jesus affirms that ‘there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’ Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation,?

Is the fact that Yeshua was born a Jew and restricted His mission to His own people no longer relevant? Are we to believe that the New Covenant made with the Jewish people is now intended only for Gentiles? Are we now to heed the high priest in Acts and not teach about Jesus? How can we square this document with the New Testament and the teaching of the Church for two millennia? If Yeshua is not the Messiah of the Jewish people, then upon what basis can we believe that He is the Messiah of anyone?

So, is there any redeeming value of this document? I would say there is. The document states that the Church’s mission of evangelization no longer wishes to end the distinctive witness of the Jewish people to God in human history.

Based upon the eternal election or calling of the Jewish people, the Association of Hebrew Catholics also wishes to see the identity and heritage, that is, the distinctive witness of the Jewish people, preserved within the Church. For approximately the last 1700-1800 years, Jewish entry into the Church has resulted in their and their offspring’s assimilation into what had become a sociologically Gentile community. A Hebrew Catholic community (or “rite) within the Church would enable them to preserve their historic and God-given identity and witness. But note, the AHC proposal, unlike that of the document, does not deny them Jesus and all that Jesus offers through His Church.



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved