Since WWII, the Church has been on the outs with Jews. One breakthrough came in the 1960s when Pope John enacting some sweeping reforms which changed official policy toward the Jewish people. It was Politically Correct, but it made it respectable to reconcile with the Jewish people once again. Since then there have been numerous setbacks, especially in matters concerning holocaust and Israel.
To Pope John Paul II's credit, he went farther than any Pope in the past to try and reverse the long standing anti-Jewish bias in the real, popular Church. In other words, he worked to change attitudes, not just official bulls. Many will quarrel with the Pope, saying he needed to go much farther, and I certainly agree. But, he did go farther than any of his predecessors in a positive direction. He even used the word "holocaust" which has never been acknowledged by the Church, and one senses that he would have gone further if he could have. During the actual events of WWII, he was among those that bucked official policy of neutrality and supported Jewish rescue. During the current MidEast conflict, he took a far more even approach than any of his predecessors. At least it was a step in the right direction. Coming from a Polish non Jew of his era, that was remarkable. We have seen how he put Joseph Glemp and others in their place.
In general, he was a strong leader who asserted the Church beliefs and his own without apology. Recently, he openly stood with the Shindler's efforts to save their daughter Terri Shiavo. He openly opposed communism and went under threat to Poland and Cuba. He did not (entirely) try to softsoap on the issue of pedaphile priests. He advocated dealing with the issue and protecting children, instead of becoming fully absorbed in spin control. He advocated freedom throughout the world.
Though I disagree with many of his positions obviously, I think that he pursued them in a forthright fashion and he returned force and influence to a papacy in rapid decline.
With the passing of this Pope, I will cautiously say that the Jews have one less ally in the world, and the Church will have difficulty filling his shoes.
This is a news box with the same sentiments from Debka
DEBKAfile Special Report
The most peripatetic of all pontiffs, the white-cassocked figure of Pope John Paul II waving from his popemobile – bulletproofed since the 1981 attempt on his life – became a legendary figure as he crisscrossed the world’s map for more than 20 years.
One of the longest and most moving of his trips was his weeklong millennium pilgrimage to the Holy Land, not only as a Christian but as a Pole who grew up with Jews and mourned Jewish friends, neighbors and former playmates, who perished in the Nazi Holocaust. His tearful embrace with a Shoah survivor at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem was spontaneous and heartfelt.
A certain disappointment with the papal visitor’s failure to apologize for the record of his predecessor Pius XII in the Nazi era faded quickly when he stood at the Western Wall and said: “Personally, I have always wanted to be counted among those who work, on both sides, to overcome old prejudices, and to secure ever wider and fuller recognition of the spiritual patrimony shared by Jews and Christians. I repeat what I said on the occasion of my visit to the Jewish Community in Rome, that we Christians recognize that the Jewish religious heritage is intrinsic to our own faith: “You are our elder brothers.”
That said, he inserted the written text into a crevice of the Wall.
The statement was perfectly consistent with his lifelong work, from before the time when Karol Wojtyla as a young priest took part in drafting the groundbreaking 1965 Vatican II document that ended centuries of Christian anathema of the Jews. The document condemned “hatred and persecutions of the Jews,” affirmed the validity of Judaism as a religious way of life with which Catholics must establish relations of “mutual knowledge and respect” and repudiated the idea of “the Jewish people as one rejected, cursed, or guilty of deicide…”
Never one for pompous or pious speeches, the pontiff took often revolutionary steps to make that edict come true.
In 1993, the Vatican extended long-overdue recognition to the State of Israel and in 1994, they exchanged ambassadors. He was the first pope since the founding of the Catholic Church to visit a synagogue when he paid his respects at the Great Synagogue of Rome in the ancient Jewish Ghetto. There, he said: “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.”
He was the first pontiff to visit Auschwitz. And, in 2001, he stood beside Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi Yaacov Bleich and prayed at the main Babi Yar Memorial for the souls of 200,000 dead, including 150,000 Jews, who were massacred by the Nazis in 1941 at this ravine region. In the first two days of the slaughter, Ukrainian Jewry was destroyed.
The pope’s gesture followed criticism for his failure to respond to an anti-Semitic diatribe from Bashar Assad during a visit to Syria.
In 2003, the Vatican opened some of its archives on the pontificate of Pius XII covering the Nazi period.
In January, 2005, his health already in decline, John Paul II warmly received more than 100 Jewish leaders, rabbis and cantors at the Vatican. Shalom Aleichem, he said and urged them to do more for stronger dialogue between Jews and Catholics. That may have been almost his last audience for a large group of visitors.