COMMENTARY: John XXIII and John Paul II – Two Catholic saints for the Jews
NEW YORK (RNS) It is a poignant coincidence that Popes John XXIII and John Paul II will be canonized as Catholic saints on the eve of Yom Hashoah, the international day of Holocaust remembrance observed in Israel and by Jews around the world.
These two popes’ personal narratives are inseparable from the Holocaust, and their reactions to the systematic genocide of the Jews played a critical role in the revolution in Catholic-Jewish relations during the last half century.
The annihilation of 6 million Jews — one-third of world Jewry — and Eastern Europe’s towering Jewish civilization was an unparalleled tragedy enabled by nearly 2,000 years of Christian demonization of Jews and Judaism. Too often, too many stood by as Jews were slaughtered like animals during World War II.
Like many Jews of my generation, it is both a national and personal horror. My father’s aunt and first cousins were murdered by the Nazis in the forest outside Bialystok, their hometown in Poland. But if telling the Holocaust story ends there, it has not been fully told.
We also have a responsibility to tell the story of the many who risked their lives to save Jews. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, has identified more than 25,000 non-Jews who are called “Righteous Among the Nations.” Additionally, we should recognize the collective self-reflection of the churches in admitting Christian complicity and demonstrating a commitment to creating a world where the lessons of the Holocaust have been learned.