On Jewish-Catholic Ties and the Role of John XXIII

Founder of Wallenberg Foundation Gives His Perspective

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NEW YORK, OCT. 26, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A Jewish leader considers the Second Vatican Council’s declaration «Nostra Aetate" of 40 years ago a landmark that completely redefined relations between Catholics and Jews.

Baruch Tenembaum, president and founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, recalled the importance, in this connection, of the election of Cardinal Angelo Roncalli to the papacy in 1958.

«With the advent of the Good Pope on the throne of Peter an extraordinary revolution began within the Catholic Church, promoted from the word and action of the Second Vatican Council, a historic landmark that completely redefined the relationship between the Church and Judaism,» the Argentina-born Tenembaum told ZENIT.

Pope John XXIII convoked the council that on Oct. 28, 1965, would publish that declaration on the relations of the Church with non-Christian religions.

«This point of change in the history of Judeo-Catholic relations was not a chance result or political opportunism,» Tenembaum said. «It was the testimony that confirmed a new attitude toward the Jewish people, a real transformation originating in the sentiments and profound sense of reconciliation of John XXIII.»

As a result, in 2000 Tenembaum established the Angelo Roncalli Committee for recognition of the humanitarian action shown by the papal nuncio Archbishop Roncalli in favor of people persecuted by the Nazi regime.

Roncalli’s risks

He said that, according to research reports carried out by this committee, «Angelo Roncalli risked his position and security by providing thousands of Turkish visas, ‘temporary’ baptismal certificates, and immigration certificates, authorizing the entry to Palestine of Hungarian Jews persecuted by the Nazis.»

«According to testimonies given at the Nuremberg trials, his interventions helped to save tens of thousands of people,» Tenembaum continued. «Catholic sources point out that about 80,000 certificates were issued. Roncalli was also involved in the fate of Jews of France, Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Italy.

«Monsignor Roncalli not only acted directly to save thousands of men, women and children condemned to extermination, but he was also a tireless person who, during the war, denounced before the Vatican and Allied nations the genocide carried out by the Nazis.

«The tenacity and determined commitment of Monsignor Roncalli with those who were suffering, his broad judgment and prophetic vision, explain the coherence of his life and work. Humanity still has much to learn from his wonderful apostolate.»

With the presence of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, the Roncalli Committee paid homage to the memory of John XXIII on Sept. 7, 2000, in the Holy See’s mission to the United Nations. The launching of the Angelo Roncalli International Committee was announced on that occasion.

In 2001, the Wallenberg Foundation published research documenting the works carried out by Archbishop Roncalli, as apostolic delegate in Istanbul, for those persecuted during the Holocaust.

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