From Fear to Friendship

Most. Rev. Howard Hubbard

October 3, 2000


Bishop Howard Hubbard, of Albany, New York , was recently honored  with the ``Fear to Friendship'' award of the United Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York. This is his address upon receiving the award. 

I am honored and privileged to be invited to address you in the context of this beautiful interfaith prayer service sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of North Eastern New York and the Jewish Christian Dialogue Committee of the Diocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

I am grateful to each of you for your presence this evening, but most especially to the rabbis, cantors and lay members of the various synagogues because I realize what a busy time of year this is for you, falling as it does between the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We gather here specifically on this day because Oct. 3 has been designated in the Roman Catholic Community as a jubilee day celebrating the Jewish-Catholic relations, as a part of our church's yearlong jubilee celebration commemorating the birth of Christ 2000 years ago. And you of the Jewish community are well familiar with the whole concept of jubilee since it has its roots in your marvelous tradition. In the original Hebrew, the word jubilee means ``ram's horn.'' This word was chosen because the ram's horn was used to proclaim ``a year of the Lord's favor.'' According to Jewish law, ``the jubilee year was to occur once every 50 years when slaves were to regain their freedom and land was to revert to its former owners.''

A jubilee year, then, is a time to heal wounds, to rectify wrongs and to restore right relationships. The Great Jubilee 2000 has been a time for us in the Christian community to reflect upon how well we have measured up to the values and ideals of our religious heritage. Where have we succeeded and where have we failed over the past 2000 years?

Certainly the foremost failure of the Christian community in general and of the Roman Catholic community specifically is the anti-Judaism which has flourished in the Christian community since the early centuries and manifested itself in the excesses of the Crusades and Inquisition, the ghettoization of Jewish people, the pogroms of the 18th and 19th centuries and, most insidiously of all, in the unspeakable Shoah. Over the past three decades, relationships between our two faith traditions have improved dramatically. Beginning with the Second Vatican Council's decree, Nostra Aetate ... which called for an end to the anti-Semitism and the charge of deicide that had sullied the church throughout its history ... to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel this past spring ... where the pontiff's solemn words at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and his moving gesture of placing a prayer of apology at the Western Wailing Wall caused Prime Minister Barak to note, ``The Pope has done more than anyone to bring about historic change in the attitude of the church toward Jewish people'." We of the Catholic and Jewish communities have made great strides in breaking down barriers of mistrust, misunderstanding, prejudice and hostility and have forged bonds of mutual respect, tolerance and genuine love and affection for each other's traditions and, more important, for each other.

In one sense, that people rooted in faith and religious values which inculcate repentance and forgiveness can heal wounds and resolve differences should not be that surprising. Yet, in another very real sense, the fact the Jewish community has even been open to reconciliation, indeed, even eager for such rapprochement, given the tragic history of persecution, vilification, dehumanization, discrimination, torture and death inflicted upon the Jewish community by some church leaders and ordinary Catholics, culminating in the horrendous Holocaust, is, from my perspective, nothing short of miraculous. I have been asked why I have been so forthcoming in seeking better relationships with members of the Jewish community. The answer is quite simple. How could one not seek to rectify the evil that has been done in the name of promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ? How could one not be ashamed of the massacres, the pogroms, the ghettoization and the denial of the very humanity of God's chosen people? Above all, how could one like myself blinded by years of ignorance and silence, now, when made aware of these atrocities, not let the light of truth shine into the dark recesses of that church which I love and to which I have devoted my life and, then, seek to bring about that purging which alone can set us free.

Hence, integrity, honesty and truth demand that as a church leader worthy of the name, I must strive to admit failure, both personal and institutional, to repent of wrongdoing and to do whatever possible to right the errors of the past as well as the misdeeds of the present. To do such is neither noble nor courageous. It is simply to be true to one's self. 

My own life experience has predisposed me to be positive about and supportive of good relationships with the Jewish community. Whatever negative influence the anti-Semitic strains present, either subtly or not so subtly in the Catholic church or the wider society may have had upon me, was either mitigated or dispelled by my firsthand interaction with members of the Jewish community. The Levys, Aronsons and Filsons of my Lansingburgh neighborhood in Troy were exemplary families and their children were welcome playmates for myself and my sisters. Roy Schrager, Meryl Greenberg and Ann Shifman were cherished classmates at the Haskell School. After ordination to the priesthood, members of the Jewish community were staunch allies in so many of my ministerial endeavors.

To look upon these neighbors, classmates, colleagues and friends who are such magnificent human beings, fine role models and superb community builders as somehow tainted because they are not Catholic or Christian, or because they have different ethnic origins than mine, or because they are Jewish would be wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter what my church or societal attitudes might dictate. 

Despite these very positive and affirming personal experiences with members of the Jewish community, if left to my own insights, quite frankly, I would probably still be fumbling in the dark in coming to grips with the roots and the sordid history of anti-Semitism and how our faith community has contributed to these ugly realities. For it has been the men and women of our Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Committee who have enlightened and educated me, who have undertaken and accomplished the hard work of conversing and studying together and taking the risk to envision a future that would be better than the past.

Their determination and perseverance, drawing upon the wisdom of historians, rabbinic scholars and theologians, as well as upon their own deep faith, creativity and capacity for change, have enabled me to understand the magnitude of the issues for Jewish-Christian relations and to appreciate the steps which must be undertaken to redress the wrongs of the past sensitively and constructively. I want to thank the members of the Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Committee for the invaluable service you have rendered to our respective faith communities and myself personally and in so doing you have enabled our Capital District to become a model of what is truly possible in Jewish-Catholic relations.

I also want to pay tribute to the wonderful persons, past and present, who have been the real grass-roots leaders, pioneering our efforts to grow beyond our historical failures and to develop deeper bonds of interfaith understanding and spiritual togetherness. To all of those who have been such an integral part of this amazing adventure, I say very simply, but with utmost sincerity, thank you! It is in your name that I humbly and gratefully accept the first Fear to Friendship Award.

Lest you think I am totally Pollyannaish, let me acknowledge that throughout the journey from Fear to Friendship there have been and continue to be tensions and difficulties. 

For example, the role of Pope Pius XII and other church leaders relative to the Holocaust; the canonization of Edith Stein and the recent beatification of Pope Pius IX; the new document from the Vatican, Dominus Jesus on the Catholic Church's self-understanding about its distinctive role among religious institutions; the posture of the Vatican on the international status of Jerusalem or on the whole Palestinian question; the approval given by the Israeli government for the erection of a Muslim mosque at the doorstep of the Basilica of the Visitation in Nazareth; or our sometimes differing positions on issues like homosexuality, abortion and school vouchers. 

These are areas where we may be at odds, where we must continue to try to understand each other's perspective and where we may have to agree to disagree, without such adversarial positions being perceived as anti-Semitism or anti-Catholicism but as honest differences among cherished brothers and sisters ... differences, which while disconcerting, do not nullify the fundamental bonds of faith, love and respect. 

Two recent developments will, I believe, assist in fostering this solidarity. The first is the document prepared by the Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs entitled Catholic Teaching on the Shoah. It is a comprehensive guide to assist those involved in Catholic education at all levels to integrate into their curriculum the reflection of Pope John Paul II on the Shoah with a four-fold goal: first, of providing Catholics with accurate knowledge and respect for Judaism and the eternal covenant God made with the Jewish people; second, of encouraging a positive appreciation of Jews and Judaism and the ongoing role of the Jewish people in God's plan of salvation; third, of promoting the spirit of repentance and conversion that the Holocaust demands of Christians given the inescapable relationship between Nazi persecution and the attitudes of Christians toward Jews through the centuries; and fourth, of arming Catholics for the ongoing battle against traditional Christian anti-Judaism and modern racial anti-Semitism.

The second development is the Jewish statement on Christians and Christianity entitled Dabru Emet, which means speak the truth. Signed by over 170 rabbis and scholars representing Orthodox, Conservative Reformed and Reconstructionist Judaism, this document is envisioned as a first step in reappraising Jewish-Christian relationships in light of the significant changes in Roman Catholic and Protestant understanding of Judaism in our post-Holocaust era. The statement calls upon members of the Jewish community to relinquish their fear and mistrust of Christianity and to acknowledge the efforts of the Christian churches since the Holocaust to amend Christian teaching about Judaism.

The statement contains eight brief assertions about how Jews and Christians may relate to one another, underscoring that we worship the same God, seek authority from the same book (the Bible) and accept the same moral principle of the Torah. The statement notes that a deepening relationship between Jews and Christians need not weaken Jewish practice nor accelerate cultural or religious assimilation but can lead to joint efforts for peace and justice. It also calls attention to the Christian recognition of the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel. In perhaps the most controversial assertion, the statement posits that while rooted in the long history of Christian anti-Judaism, Nazism was not itself a Christian phenomenon. 

This leads me to offer two challenges which I hope we will address aggressively in the future, namely, the challenge to get beyond what I would call some of the neuralgic political and social issues which have preoccupied so much of our dialogue heretofore to a much deeper understanding of the spiritual values, teachings and traditions which are at the very heart of our faith communities. This is a critical area of exploration which, I believe, we have tended to accord only cursory attention. Yet it is so vitally important for addressing the needs of our people in the highly secularized and consumer-orientated environment in which we find ourselves. 

People are hungry for faith and spirituality. The great myth of modern advertising that more prosperity can give us happy, fulfilled and purposeful lives has been exploded. Now we know, or at least most do, that shopping does not satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. Some of the leading analysts of our time have concluded that the crisis of our age is a crisis of spirituality, that all the post-modernism, nihilism, moral relativism and secular humanism of the past century have been found wanting and that people once again are turning to faith and religion as the answer to the cry of the human heart. To address that cry, we must be prepared to tap into the wellspring of spirituality which both Judaism and Christianity contain and then translate these time-tested and time-proven spiritual values into words and imagery which speak to contemporary realities and which ensure a fresh hearing for God's revelation. And revisiting and relearning this ancient wisdom together, I believe, can be mutually enriching for our respective faith communities as we respond to people's spiritual hunger and thirst, enabling each of our communities to fulfill their critical and indispensable role more fully and more effectively than ever before.

The second challenge is for our two faith communities to collaborate more closely in the days ahead in seeking to address poverty and the other social ills of our day. When one in five American children ... and one in three children of color ... are poor, then, the moral underpinnings of our unprecedented prosperity are in great disarray. The post-World War II prosperity benefited most American families. But the prosperity of the past decade has sent a fiscal windfall straight to the very top. The rising tide has lifted all the yachts but not yet all the boats. While the stock market has soared, unemployment remained relatively low and inflation brought under control, there is a growing disparity between the poor and the non-poor. Our two faith communities need to forge new partnerships to address this challenge. Is there any specific Roman Catholic or Orthodox, Conservative or Reform Jewish approach to overcoming poverty, resolving homelessness, combating substance abuse, addressing the Third World debt or reforming welfare in a humane and empowering way? Of course not. Therefore, for the clarity of our witness and the effectiveness of our service we would do well to work jointly in programs of direct service and public policy advocacy to combat the causes of poverty and its attendant ills and to bring about a more just and equitable society. If we would do this, then, I am convinced we can make a significant and enduring impact to improving the quality of life in the Capital District and far beyond, and deepen the bonds between us. May this be so! Indeed, may the progress we have made from Fear to Friendship continue unabated and lead to a society and world where peace, justice, human freedom and religious tolerance flow abundantly.