While Giacomo Casanova is usually remembered as a womanizer, the 1700s Italian adventurer was also a gifted writer and translator. His memoirs are a 12-volume, 3,500-page fascinating portrait of Europe in the 18th century. Many years ago, while reading the book, I was struck by this paragraph:
“Early in the morning on Maundy Thursday, they told me that Moses and Leah wanted to see me. I had not expected to see them, but I welcomed them warmly. Throughout Holy Week the Jews dared not shew themselves in the streets of Turin, and I advised them to stay with me till the Saturday.”
That paragraph was for me the beginning of a growing awareness of a painful history. Previously, I knew about the persistent anti-Semitism of many European Christian societies in only a general way.
Given that history, I think we Catholics have a special duty to oppose anti-Semitism. And the abhorrent experience of the Holocaust during the Second World War taught us the ultimate consequences of anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance.
St. Pope John Paul II, who called the Jewish people “our elder brothers in the faith of Abraham,” recognized that historical reality when he wrote: “There is no doubt that the sufferings endured by the Jews are also for the Catholic Church a motive of sincere sorrow, especially when one thinks of the indifference and sometimes resentment which, in particular, historical circumstances, have divided Jews and Christians.”
Anti-Semitism has been present in almost every society for the last three millennia, although the justifications for the persecution change with time.
The Egyptian pharaohs considered the Jewish people interlopers and made them slaves, and the Babylonian kings conquered and exiled them.
The Romans destroyed their nation, their holy city and their temple. The Christians accused them of having killed Jesus, and the Muslims considered them second-class citizens.
Nowadays, some on the far left side of the political spectrum blame them for the problems of the Middle East, while many on the far right say they control the media and the banks, repeating old anti-Semitic tropes.
The justifications change according to the times or the political leanings of certain groups, but the persecution of the Jewish people and the hateful anti-Semitism of old has been constant throughout the world. And it is still sickening the minds and hearts of many people.
“Nostra Aetate” (In Our Time), the declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council, states: “In her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
We hope that the principles of the “Nostra Aetate” declaration are shared by the vast majority of our contemporaries. But during the last several weeks, here in Brooklyn — home to 561,000 Jewish people, or more than 20 percent of the borough’s population — we have witnessed several attacks against our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Last Sunday, Bishop DiMarzio, Cardinal Dolan and other religious leaders participated, along with almost 30,000 people, in the “No Hate. No Fear” march over the Brooklyn Bridge in solidarity with the Jewish community.
In a world where Christians are harassed, persecuted and killed in so many places, we are more attuned than ever to the multi-millennial sufferings of our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Yes, we Catholics stand with our elder brothers in the faith against anti-Semitism.