In community through ages…
Archbishop Jozef Michalik
‘Take your son,’ God said, ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him
as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’
(Genesis 22: 2)
I wholeheartedly welcome all our distinguished guests – representatives of the Governor, Self-Government and Local Government. I am glad to address you on behalf of the organisers, i.e. the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Przemysl, the Commission for the Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Bishops’ Conference and the President of Przemysl.
I cordially greet all participants of our meetings and prayer, Jews with Rabbis Michael Schudrich, Boaz Pash, Edgar Glucki and Piotr Kadlčiki. I welcome Archbishop Jan Martyniak of the Greek Catholic Church and his priests as well as the priests who came from Lublin and the neighbouring dioceses.
We should have respect and kindness for all nations but Christians are so much connected with the nation God chose that our hearts should constantly be grateful to Jews who received God’s covenant, preserved it and through Jesus passed the hope of salvation to us. Moreover, they shared the word of God’s revelation – according to the Lord’s commandment – with all world nations.
We are grateful to the Chosen Nation for the Holy Scriptures that is the source of faith and knowledge about the existence of the One Who Is. With Jews we pray the same words inspired by the Holy Spirit when we recite the Psalms, when we are moved reading the history of Abraham, Isaac or Moses. Fearing we listen to the voice of Isaiah, to the warnings and admonition and teachings of the prophets: Jeremiah, Elijah and other men of God. We know they refer to us and their words are still valid. ‘The word of God is something alive and active; it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely; it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secrets, emotions and thoughts’ (Hebrews 4:12).
Moreover, at present we follow attentively and with spiritual benefits the reflections being the voice of faith of believing rabbis and believing Jews. This truth is not rejected by the circumstance that is painful for everyone that there are some people who assume the honourable great name of a Jew like many assume the honourable name of a Catholic, a Christian, and have nothing to do with them, and perhaps today one must apologise for the painful misunderstanding and grief that result from that.
It is worth praying and one should pray to God of the Ten Commandments among which the brightest is the most important one, ‘You shall love Lord God […] and your neighbour like yourself.’ Thus one should beg the Lord to take out from people’s hearts hatred and resentment, disdain and desire to manipulate the holy truth of God on purpose. Only the truth preached with love is beautiful and only sacrificial love is true, worth respecting and following. And all nations and every man are invited to such love. And in spite of that people can neglect God’s gifts, reject love replacing it with indifference or hatred.
One cannot forget the innocent victims of the Holocaust and genocide from the war times and from the present. One should warn and reprimand and point out to those who betrayed God and God’s commandments of love in the most difficult times, especially that they were not exceptions.
The Greek Catholic priest Emilian Kowcza, who helped all people regardless of their nationalities and faiths during the persecutions, died in Majdanek. Or the twelve inhabitants of the village of Paulinow in the region of Podlasie, killed for helping the Jews who escaped from the ghetto in Sterdynia. For helping Jews the following were killed in Majdanek: Fr Andrzej Osipowicz (+1943), parish priest of Boryslaw and dean of Drohobycz (Diocese of Przemysl); killed in Auschwitz: Fr Jan Giedlarowski (+1943), parish priest of the neighbouring village of Michalowka. There were more of them but the special case is the village of Markowa, typical for our region, and the family of Josef and Wiktoria Ulm with their seven children. The Nazis murdered them on 24 March 1944, together with the two Jewish families the Ulms had hidden. We should receive with admiration the project to commemorate the family in the museum that is being created, and thus necessarily remind people of the fact that despite the Nazi terror 16 more Jews were saved in Markowa till the end of the war. One of them was Romek – Abraham Segal who through his testimony of gratitude for his new ‘mother’ in Markowa is a witness of authentic culture of this noble nation that believes in God.
Christians speak with respect and religious veneration about Maximilian Kolbe who gave his life for his neighbour during the Nazi occupation and earlier had opened Niepokalanow for hundreds of Jews. And isn’t Dr. Janusz Korczak, Henryk Goldszmit who gave up his freedom and went to death with his wards, a great witness and martyr of love for children?
Today being faithful to Lord God and his commandments, faithfulness to the covenant with God, the sign of which Jews and Christians carry in themselves in their own way, requires much courage.
Father Kolbe, Dr. Korczak and the Ulms, giving up their lives, saved humanity and became beams of light, showing the way of human dignity in the darkest years.
Our times have many successes and achievements but if we do not want to lose them we must have the courage to reveal threats and bring light to the darkness of evil, which is in ourselves, in the tendencies of intellectual fashions or in the promotion of lying, egoism and hatred. We need the same courage and righteousness to listen to contemporary teachers, prophesising in the name of the Most High. Without faith, without deepened contact with God, our efforts to do good will be ineffective and have no value in the future life.
One of the most eminent defenders of sound anthropology in contemporary times are the last Popes, with their universalism of thought and heart: John Paul II and Benedict XVI, open to all problems of the world and people, respecting the worshippers of God in all religions. Their attitudes towards Jews were unique. It was so good to hear from the successor of St Peter the words that ‘whoever encounters Jesus Christ encounters Judaism (John Paul II, Mainz 1980). And among Jews there are also defenders of God’s rights to presence in the world he created. There are outstanding, wise and noble people. We discover them too slowly; we know about them too little and we listen to them too little.
For me one of such contemporary prophets was Abraham Joshua Heschel (+1972), rabbi and professor, or rather man of faith and wisdom whose legacy is huge. He did not only say that ‘in our epoch anti-Semitism is anti-Christianity and that anti-Christianity is anti-Semitism’ (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Czlowiek szukajacy Boga, [Man’s Quest for God] Znak 2008), but also thought that ‘to speak about God and remain on Vietnam is blasphemous’ (Byron Sherwin, Abraham Joshua Heschel, WAM 2003), because faith cannot be separated from life.
Moreover, the decay of religious life cannot be fully attributed to the influence of secularisation – ‘It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion — its message becomes meaningless.
Man’s worth does not results from deeds, achievements, talents but from the act that he was made in the image of the Creator (Heschel). God is still interested in man. ‘God needs man’ and man should reflect this fatherly love. The growth of faith, its strengthening happens through good deeds. Fulfilling Gods’ commandments, which can be hard for us, ‘doing more than we understand in the end we can understand more than we do.’
An especially important school of life for believers is prayer because praying we learn from the Creator himself; we learn how to live and what to aspire to. ‘So often we do not know what to cling to. Prayer implants in us the ideals we ought to cherish. Redemption, purity of mind and tongue, or willingness to help, may hover as ideas before our mind, but the idea becomes a concern, something to long for, a goal to be reached, when we pray:
Guard my tongue from evil
and my lips from speaking guile;
and in the face of those who curse me,
let my soul be silent’ (Heschel).
Yes. It is worth praying and we should pray because thanks to prayer we can overcome and go beyond ourselves. Then God goes beyond and overcomes our limitations.