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Klincz. Debata polsko - żydowska cz.17

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Jews can be baptized
with fr. Sławomir Abramowski


We are currently in the parish of Saint Pope John Paul II, who did extraordinary things to improve Catholic-Jewish relations. Do Jews appreciate the efforts of John Paul II in this field?
It is necessary to start from the fact that John Paul II was undoubtedly the person who for the Catholic-Jewish relationship had done absolutely the most since the time of the first Christian communities. First, John Paul II visited on 13 April 1986 the Roman Greater Synagogue. Then he fully realized Nostra aetate.
I had the opportunity in 2000, when there was a pilgrimage of John Paul II to Israel, to see what it looked like in the eyes of Israeli society. I was there as a pilot then. Because so many pilgrims came from Poland to Israel, especially young people, there were no tourist pilots. The Ministry of Tourism in Israel therefore organized Israeli pilots who were assisted - as it was in my case - by a priest who knew Polish and Israel. So we were together in such a team. We had to take 11 coaches. It was an extreme sport. I was involved in liturgies, Catholic organization and logistics as well as relations with people on buses, because the Jewish pilot, Ruben, spoke little Polish. We worked together all the time and ran without rest between these coaches. The most interesting thing was to look at him when he watched the Israeli television and asked me about various things. When the Pope was still in Jordan, literally all of Israel was frozen and wait. Everyone was very much afraid that the Pope would come and start touching some sensitive political issues. They weren’t afraid that the Pope would talk about independent Palestine. The Pope finished his visit to Jordan and came to Israel. During this week, the moods of the Jews in Israel changed diametrically. This Pope, whom they were so much afraid of and to whom they had a lot of reserve, went to the Knesset and talked to the parliamentarians. Then he went to pray to the Weeping Wall and was in Yad Vashem, and there he prayed in the Hall of Remembrance. When they saw it all, they completely changed the front. When Pope John Paul II left Israel, with the exception of ultra-Orthodox Jews, all Israel loved him. To the extent that no Pope has ever been loved as much as John Paul II, and he will probably never be there again.
I remember that a few years later a survey was conducted related to the influences of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews on Israeli society, in which they asked who was the greatest spiritual leader in your opinion. In this survey neither the Sephardic rabbi nor the Ashkenazi rabbi won. The winner was John Paul II, who was recognized by almost 30% of Israelis as the most important spiritual leader. So important for the Jews was the figure of this pope. We really don’t appreciate what John Paul II did.

You were organizing and at the same time the first parish priest and Catholic centers in Latruna, Ashdod, Haifa, Upper Tiberias, Nazareth Illit, Eilat, Arad, Mitzpe Ramon. Now you are building a church in Warsaw's Bemowo. You can say a priest from special tasks.
I don’t know if you can call it that. It's just that someone has to do some work and it just happens that this person is just me. I came to Israel in connection with the so-called Russian aliya, a large group of immigrants from Russia who came to Israel. In the 1990s, there were about one million two hundred thousand people with Jewish roots. In Russia there was poverty then, so many people decided to come to Israel. Of course, there was huge atheism in Russia, so many Jews didn’t believe in anything at all. There were also a lot of people who were baptized, of course mostly in the Orthodox Church. Those who came to Israel, especially those who were non-believers, after a short time in Israel felt that they must believe in some God. The Holy Land and its history encourage such things. They force people to ask themselves fundamental questions. These people, after asking themselves such questions, came to the conclusion that modern Judaism isn’t completely what suits them and what they could find, because Judaism doesn’t really create any imminent culture to them. Judaism is, in this matter, a little square. However, Jews from Russia were brought up in Christian culture after all, and that's why they felt that Christianity was much closer to them. And so a certain paradox appeared. Among those Jews who came from Israel to Israel, a large part of them began to wonder if they can be baptized. Hence the need to find a priest who would deal with them in the hands of the Catholic Church.
I graduated from the diocesan seminary of Redemptoris Mater in Warsaw and I was one of those people who knew Russian realities and culture quite well. Previously, I was on a mission in the USSR in 1988, so before the dissolution of USSR. Then I was in Kazakhstan and Georgia. That is why Cardinal asked me whether I would agree to go on a mission to Israel and I said that, of course, I would. And so I came to Israel. There are also many people from Redemptoris Mater who are sent abroad. The first ordinations in our seminar took place less than twenty years ago. Those who were then ordained today are already rectors of seminaries and parish priests in many places in the world.
In 2002 and 2003, I worked in Jerusalem. I created a Catholic community in Ashdod, where there wasn’thing before. I worked a little in the Tel Aviv area. There, I opened a prayer place in Latrun for people from Tel Aviv. After a year, a priest came to help there. In the places where I started, today, there are already four Catholic Roman priests and one Greek Catholic. When the first priest came, I gave him everything that I managed to organize in central Israel. I went to the north myself and started to work in Haifa There, to a large extent, I reactivated the Hebrew-speaking community, which includes Stella Zylbersztajn. I arrived there eight years  after the death of Father Daniel Rufeisen and then almost everything has already disappeared. There were only individuals who felt somehow related to the Catholic Church. However, he had no one to continue this community. The priest came all the way from Jerusalem. He also shared a certain Carmelite who used them for a year, but he didn’t want to continue all this. That's when I passed this community. Then it began to grow. We prayed there in Hebrew. At the same time, I was in charge of the pastoral ministry of the Russian language in Stella Maris and created a Greek Catholic parish for Ukrainians. There, however, were also Russian-and Hebrew-speaking people. Today in Haifa, Holy Mass is celebrated for the Hebrew-speaking community by Fr. Roman Kaminski. For the Greek Catholic parish, Fr. Grzegorz Wawrzyniak. It all lasted almost four years. I traveled from Haifa to Upper Tiberias and Upper Nazareth, where I opened more Catholic centers. Then after these four years I came to Tiberias and worked there in the community. In the end, I wanted to gather from Israel and go somewhere else. At that time, however, the Patriarch changed. The new Patriarch of Jerusalem asked me to take care of the south of Israel, because there, from Beer Sheva to the border with Egypt, there was no parish. I said that I would try to take care of it, and so I created a parish in the south of Israel in Eilat, which, however, wasn’t Hebrew-speaking, but completely multi-worship. For example, I celebrated Holy Masses in English, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic, and sometimes even Polish. In Arad, in turn, I said Mass in Arabic. In Dimona, sometimes in Russian and sometimes in Hebrew. In Beer Sheva, I started a Greek Catholic ministry, but when I left Israel, unfortunately no one else took it. In the parish in Eilat, which was officially erected in 2009, today is the new parish priest.

With what - typical for that part of the world - problems you had to deal with during your pastoral work in Israel?
First of all, in the Middle East you have to move very carefully, so that you don’t get on a mine. There were three things that were a problem for me. The first problem was the need to avoid accusing Jews and Muslims of proselytizing. You have to move so as to make as little noise as possible, and on the other hand, not to get into the slippery terrain. For example, Israel has a statutory anti-proselytizing law. In Israel, it isn’t allowed to evangelize people who aren’t adults. Also, no one can be baptized in exchange for any material benefits. Of course, I've never seen someone get baptized for a bribe, but that's where that right exists. It is also forbidden to evangelize on the street, so publicly. If, however, it is able to move in this area and not make a lot of noise, then somehow it works. Why not make a lot of noise? Here is the second problem. Well, in my opinion, in Israel and Palestine the biggest problem for Catholic pastoral activity isn’t the state party of Israel, but the orthodox environment of Jews or Muslims. I had situations when Muslims wanted to beat us. There was also a situation when the Orthodox Jews sent us the police in Arad and came out of it a large mess. It bothered them that I was a Catholic community and baptized people. Orthodox Jews and Muslims dislike such things very much.
The third problem in pastoral work in the Holy Land is a certain ideology functioning in various serious people in the Catholic Church. One of its manifestations is the claim that Jews can’t be baptized or that Muslims can’t be baptized. I don’t know where this misinterpretation of Nostra aetate came from. However, it is so advanced that the priest from Poland, Jew-Pole now living in Israel, during my visit to him with pilgrims, told me that when I baptize Jews, I do a terrible thing and I am subject to church punishment. I told him that the first thing I heard about was something like that. I have studied all the documents of the Church and have never met this place. So I ask him if he can show me at least one such document. "Yes, I will show you," he answered. Later I spoke to him, and he tells me that he probably made a mistake, because there is no such thing anywhere.
Somehow, however, there was such a misinterpretation of Nostra aetate and the relationship of Christians to other monotheistic religions. On the basis of this misinterpretation, people and, in addition, priests, are deeply convinced that in general, under no circumstances can a Jew or a Muslim be baptized. Some are convinced that Jew, and others, that a Muslim. Unfortunately, this problem also applies to bishops. Absolutely, however, it isn’t written anywhere and the Church has never recognized that it isn’t allowed to baptize Jews.

So where do the postulates come from in the Church in order to withdraw from the evangelization of Jews and give up their baptism?
With the Jews, the situation is quite different than with the followers of other religions. More unique. St. Paul speaks of the fact that in the history of salvation, Israel is a distinctive function. Israel has opened the door to the Kingdom of Heaven for all nations and now stands at this door and waits for everyone to come in and then at the end, go inside himself and close the door behind him. More or less, that's what Saint Paul. Of course, Saint Paul strongly and clearly says that this doesn’t apply to all of Israel. St. Paul says in Romans that "hardness hasn’t touched all Israel. I'm a Jew too. Why did I convert? If God's will is for the Jews not to come back, why did I convert and what do all the Jews do here?!" The first Christian communities in Greek and Roman cities were Jews after all, the New Testament, and more specifically the Apocalypse of Saint John, clearly says about 144 thousand converts from Israel and generations and centuries, that means that every generation is the rest of Israel who converts, this is so different that the general concept of the Catholic Church is that Jews shouldn’t be converted by force, which is why that the rest is being converted anyway.

Some say that if it weren’t for voluntary and forced conversions to Christianity, even 100 million Jews would live in the world today. Keeping in mind the fact that there are currently 12 to 14 million Jews living in the world, it is safe to assume that today there are tens of millions of Jewish descendants in the world who once adopted Christianity and melted into other nations. Perhaps there are even more of them than those Jews who aren’t baptized.
We Poles are a living confirmation of this. After all, there were whole waves of converted Jews in Poland, such as the Frankis. Many Jews then received baptism and entered the Polish society. It is also worth mentioning the mass of Jews who were real converts to Christianity in the Warsaw Ghetto. They didn’t do it for baptism, because they knew it wouldn’t help them anyway. The Jews, therefore, convert themselves and we, as a Church of nations, maybe we shouldn’t convert them forcibly. However, I think that those who have the full right to convert Jews are Christians of Jewish descent. They have a full theological and moral right to convert and evangelize Jews.
 
Joseph Frey, the founder of the Anglican London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among Jews, who also worked on the Vistula River, was such a Christian of Jewish descent. In any case, Protestant churches often treat the conversion of Jews as a priority. There are even absurd and abusive claims on this background, and even the posthumous baptism of Jews. This is how the Mormons The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints act. Members of this Protestant sect baptized the victims of the Holocaust posthumously. After information that they had baptized the parents of the hunter of Nazi war criminals, Szymon Wiesenthal, Jewish organizations and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Elie Wiesel, protested against such practices. After this scandal, the Mormons were supposed to withdraw from the baptism of the victims of the Holocaust. However, they still enter still living Jews on the list of people awaiting posthumous baptism. Against this background, the Catholic Church seems to be exceptionally restrained and moderate. And what about the baptism of Jews in Israel? Do many Jews get there for Christianity?
In Israel, many Jews are converted. In half of cases, they are baptized in messianic communities, but there are also many people who have been baptized by the Orthodox. For example, in Galilee, I remember an Orthodox priest who showed me his censuses and saw in them almost five thousand people he had baptized in the last five years. The baptism of a Jew isn’t an easy decision for him. It must be taken into account that this is because of bad consequences. I even made such statistics of baptized Jews. From this statistics, it appeared that in half of cases father, mother, brother and sister, and thus the closest family, and even the wife of a baptized Jew, broke up all relations with him.
 
And how does it look like for Muslims?
In Egypt or Lebanon, many Muslims are converting to Christianity. In Israel or Palestine, however, the situation is a bit different. In general, for the baptism of a Muslim, for reasons of security after baptism, he should leave the city in which he lives for some time. Then, just as the water will die down and there is no fatwa published for it, because unfortunately, in the context of the issued fatwa other Muslims recognize that the blood of such a man is worthless and should be killed, then you can calmly come back. So if someone is a Muslim and accepts Christ, he risks life. And as a Jew converts, he almost always risks breaking family relationships. They can also throw him out of work. Nevertheless, there is a mass of baptized Jews in Israel. I think the key is that these people after baptism have support from the Christian community. They have a Christian community in which they can find support. Christians help there a lot. These communities are different than our, where there are anonymous groups of people at Masses. There are communities in which people are close to each other. In order to enter this community, they were first to take very important life decisions. So they are very much based on Christ. In the Christian communities in Haifa and Eilat there are both Jews and Arabs with each other. They pray in Hebrew because the Jews usually don’t speak Arabic, and the majority of Israeli Arabs speak fluent in Hebrew.
As for the situation of Jewish Catholics in Israel, one more thing needs to be mentioned. Every Jew in the world has the right to receive citizenship of Israel. There are exceptions, however. One of them is this when someone declares himself a Catholic. The Jew is first of all the one who comes from a Jewish mother and didn’t receive baptism in a Christian church. If a Jew is an atheist, communist or Buddhist, he is still a Jew. If he converts to Islam, Shintoism and Confucianism remain Jewish. If, however, he is baptized, he ceases to be a Jew. This is the specifics of Israeli law.

So everything is old. In the end, Saint John wrote in the Gospel: "(…) Jews, who had already agreed to ban from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. " (John 9.22)
Yes. I remember the situation of a boy from a seminary who had Jewish origins. Patriarchate and his lawyers got him citizenship. Israel has always avoided the situation when the case could be found before the Supreme Court there. Because if the Supreme Court had once issued a verdict in which he would recognize that this Catholic has the right to citizenship because he is Jewish, in a short time there would be one hundred thousand Messianic Jews from the United States, which would be very bad for the Israeli right, who rules in Israel. In this matter, one should put the case of father Daniel Rufeisen, who was a converted Polish Jew, a Carmelite. Before he converted, he lived in today's Lithuania. After the Germans' entry, he was accidentally employed as their translator. Knowing the plans for deporting Jews to the ghetto, he warned the Jews and arranged for them to escape. He saved several hundred Jews in this way. When it appeared, he managed to escape and Carmelite nuns sheltered him with  the exposure of the whole monastery. They protected him in the basement where there were Christian books. He began to read them out of boredom. The attitude of the Carmelite nuns and the reading of these books meant that he decided to be baptized. However, he didn’t want to expose the sisters to security any longer, and he escaped to the forest to join the partisans and there he found the end of the war. After the war he joined the Carmelites and when in the 1960s Jews were expelled from Poland, he came to Israel in a Polish aliyah, among which there were also other messianic people. He settled permanently in Carmel, Haifa, and worked there as a Carmelite. The existing community of Hebrew-speaking Catholics owes its origin to him. His case is taught in the course of Israeli law. He asked the Israeli state for Israeli citizenship. Once that he was a Jew. Secondly, because he saved several hundred Jews from certain death. However, he didn’t get Israeli citizenship as a Jew because he was said to be not a Jew as a baptized Catholic. He also didn’t receive Israeli citizenship as the one who saved Jews because he was told that when he was rescuing Jews he was still a Jew, so he couldn’t be recognized as a Righteous among the Nations and thus obtain citizenship.

It happens that people who aren’t willing to Israel compare some of the Israeli legal solutions to regulations that existed in the Third Reich. As an example justifying such far-reaching analogies indicate, among others the Nuremberg law on the protection of the blood of German and German worship, which forbade marriages between Jews and Aryans. In their opinion, similar restrictions exist in Israel in relation to Christians. How is it really? Is a Christian really unable to marry Jew in Israel?
No, he can’t. In order for a mixed marriage to be included, that is, when one party is Jewish and the other party isn’t Jewish, then either the Christian side turns to Judaism or the Jewish side passes to Christianity. This is the easiest way. If someone doesn’t want to convert to Christianity or Judaism, then in order to get married he must leave Israel. The closest is Cyprus. The resulting rally even tourist agencies specializing in wedding ceremony in Cyprus. Although it is unthinkable for many religious Jews to accept daughter relationship with non-Jew.
In Israel, there are a lot of women from the Philippines or from Ukraine who worked there and fell in love with Jews. Sometimes, they were doing a giyur. This isn’t a renunciation of Jesus Christ, although this can happen during the course. Christians have catechisms, the purpose of which is to lead a man to faith in Christ. It is different in Judaism. In Judaism, a woman simply has to undergo a course where she is learned how to run a kosher kitchen, she keeps the rules of the Sabbath and the rules of purity associated with menstruation. When she can do all this, he goes to the mikvah, immerses himself in the water and is already a Jew. The man must be circumcised. In a large part of the Israeli society, it is recognized that a person who does giyur doesn’t convert to Judaism, but accepts Jewish culture. Therefore, giyur isn’t treated as a renunciation of Christianity, because you still believe in the same God. It may happen, however, that during the course of the giyur someone will ask you if you believe in Christ and then if you are a Christian, then you have to say that you believe. However, when the rabbi responsible for the giyur finds out about it, he may blow the person out of the course with a bang.
I had such a funny situation, where two Christians of Jewish origin were to marry. At that time in the Israeli Ministry of Internal Affairs it was a very complicated procedure. So I advised them to organize a ceremony with the rabbi for the family, and later they had a nice wedding in the church. So they made a normal party in the restaurant with the participation of the rabbi, during which he signed the documents, and then again there was a ceremony in the church, but without the participation of the Jewish family.
Issue of marriage in Israel is different at all than in our country. For example, when a wife is bedridden and requires permanent care, you can’t divorce her. You can then take a second wife. Another variant of a polygamous marriage is if you can find a hundred rabbis who will give you permission. But who will look for a hundred rabbis to get involved with another woman ?! Normally a divorce takes place and involves a second woman. In Israel, however, the wife may not agree to a divorce and then there is no divorce. It doesn’t matter how long this situation may last. This is the specifics there.

Did you ever meet in Israel with a sign of hostility from Jews or Muslims?
In Israel it is very difficult to walk in a cassock, because it is very hot there. Here, I also rarely go in cassock, unless I have a ministry in the parish. In Poland, it isn’t at all accepted that the priest would walk in a cassock outside the liturgical service. I usually wear a black outfit and a dress code. She, in Israel, wasn’t always read as a symbol of a Catholic priest. Sometimes people would tell me that I forgot to cut the label from the new shirt. I also heard them say to me: "0, you are a Catholic priest, good, good." "How do you know?" - I asked. "From telenovela, because that's how the priests dress there," they replied.
With the reception of the fact that I am a priest, it can always be the same as with the reception of the fact that I am Polish. I knew in Israel people who, due to the fact that I was Polish, treated me very friendly. There were also people who treated me very unpleasantly because of this. So there is no rule here.

Have you met in Israel with the stereotype of an anti-Semite Pole?
Arabs aren’t interested in the issue of alleged anti-Semitism of Poles. On the other hand, when it comes to Jews, I really met with opinions that anti-Semitism prevails in Poland. On the other hand, to be honest, it is a bit of anti-Semitism in Poland. During the war, depending on the region of Poland, various references to Jews were made. There were many blackmailers in the eastern parts of Poland. In turn, here in Mazovia, it wasn’t that bad, although it wasn’t too rosy. Today, the attitude of Poles to Jews is conditioned by the fact that in the interwar period many Jews had communist sympathies, and after the war they created the communist Security Office. This led to the emergence among Poles of a stereotype of the so-called Judeo-communism, which even if it was, it hasn’t existed in Poland for a long time. Nevertheless, this stereotype somewhere in the Poles is slumbering and telling them to see a communist in the average Jew.

How do Polish Jews assess the attitude of Poles during the Holocaust?
I've heard many different stories. The Polish Jews living in Israel reveal the diverse faces of the Holocaust, as the Poles treated Jews differently. It just results from the fact that in Poland before the war lived a lot of Jews, about 10 percent of Polish society. A similar situation didn’t take place in any other country.
On the one hand, more than a third of all the Righteous, that is people who saved a Jew from death during the war, are Poles. On the other hand, there were many Poles who gave Jews to the Germans. In Israel, you meet Jews whose family died because a Pole pointed their hideout to the Germans. But you also meet people who tell the story with a stinging eyes about the host, who hid the Jewish family in their dugout throughout the war. When the front passed through this village and the Germans were stationed nearby, host said, shaking with fear: "Either we all survive or all die".
I remember the story of one Jewish woman being kept. If it was dangerous, the host wanted to throw her away. At that time, the parish priest told the people in general that there is no sin to help Jews today. When the parish priest said so, all the hosts began to take care of the girl and she went from hand to hand. There were many cases when Poles helped Jews because of the Catholic faith. We need to look at the matter in this way: There were many heroes in Poland who saved Jews and it is no accident that Poles have the most trees in Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, but there were also many blackmailers. When assessing that time and our mutual relations, we need common sense. One can’t look at reality through the prism of claiming that the Poles were only good or, in turn, that they were only anti-Semites, because it isn’t true. The truth lies in the middle. Poland had the largest Jewish minority in the world, which the Germans wanted to exterminate. In addition, it should be added that according to Mein Kampf Hitler, the Poles were Untermenschen. Hence, for the help of Jews, the most severe penalties in the world were introduced for Poles. At most the French were arrested. Exactly the same Poles threatened a bullet in the head, because according to the Nazis Bible, - Mein Kampf, the French were racially with a mesh higher than the Slavs. The Jews weren’t, after all, the first and only victims of this criminal ideology. First, the mentally ill were murdered, then Roma and Jews. Most probably, the Gypsies suffered the most by their ethnicity. However, they don’t have any media force to penetrate, so few people know about it.
 
You mentioned earlier about Jewish messianic communities. What are their beginnings?
The origins of messianic communities date back to pre-war Poland, namely the territories of today's Ukraine. It was there that the first messianic congregations were created. During the WW2 these people emigrated to England, and from there they left for the United States and Israel. Today, therefore, most Messianic Jews are in America and then in Israel. On the other hand, when it comes to Catholic Hebrew-speaking communities, for me, for example, the messianic was saying "pastor of Catholic messianic". This shows a completely different reality of looking at this issue.
From our point of view, Messianic Jews are essentially Protestants. Admittedly, they say that the church existed before it even divided itself into Orthodox and Protestant, and thus before the first divisions in the Church occurred. Therefore, they consider themselves to be the right, original Christians. So between us, nobody really knows what the first church of Jewish Christians looked like. The only thing you know that it existed. History calls them Nazarenes. Saint Paul also uses the term "road", and the Nazarenes were a concept that the Jews created for the Jews of Christians. In the Talmud, this is the word "nocri" and that's why the Christian community of Jews was called Nazarenes. The Church was at one point considered to be Christians who make a mistake. Being Christians, they went to the synagogue and cultivated Jewish holidays.

At first, other Jews told them that they were wandering. Later, the Church itself (namely Christians from other nations) began to criticize the actions of Judaeo-Christian. How finally canon VIII of the Second Council of Nicax of 787 proclaims: "Since certain, erring in the superstitions of the Hebrews, have thought to mock at Christ our God, and feigning to be converted to the religion of Christ do deny him, and in private and secretly keep the Sabbath and observe other Jewish customs, we decree that such persons be not received to communion, nor to prayers, nor into the Church; but let them be openly Hebrews according to their religion, and let them not bring their children to baptism, nor purchase or possess a slave. But if any of them, out of a sincere heart and in faith, is converted and makes profession with his whole heart, setting at naught their customs and observances, and so that others may be convinced and converted, such an one is to be received and baptized, and his children likewise; and let them be taught to take care to hold aloof from the ordinances of the Hebrews. But if they will not do this, let them in no wise be received". Are today's messianic Jews linking Christianity with Judaism or are they simply Christians who follow their national tradition?
Today's messianic Jews are first and foremost Christians. When it comes to their reference to Jewish tradition, these communities are very diverse. Some, more charismatic or pentecost, aren’t interested in tradition at all and don’t keep anything. Others, in turn, retain almost the entire Jewish tradition, with the exception of this anti-Christian one. Christianity in no way interferes with them in obeying all Jewish tradition and culture and celebrating Jewish holidays, though not all. They, as Jews, think that they have God's command to follow the feasts that are mentioned in the Scriptures. Jesus, being a Jew, also kept Jewish holidays, such as the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Shavuot Festival. The first Christians who were Jews didn’t see any reason why they wouldn’t do it. The Messianic Jews look just the same.

Was being on the Neocatechumenal Path, whose uprising was inspired, among other things, by the functioning of the first Christian communities in which Jews predominated, helped you in some way while serving in Israel and in dealing with Jews?
Not the specificity of the neocatechumenate, but in general the specificity of Christianity helped me in this. It is impossible to be a Christian and read the Holy Bible while being an anti-Semite. St. Paul in the 11th chapter of Romans speaks of the relationship of Christians from nations to Israel. And there Saint Paul, at some point, says that if the root is holy, then the tree is sacred. If the root is rotting, then the tree growing out of it is rotten. And then he explains that the root from which Christianity draws its juices is biblical Judaism, and therefore the nation of Israel, which according to the teaching of Saint Paul is a nation of promises. And that is what we understand in the Church. Why, then, am I saying that you can’t be both a Christian and an anti-Semite? Because if, being a Christian, you say that Israel is evil, it means that Christianity is frenzied and therefore you are rotting. That's how he gave it to Christians Saint Paul. In my opinion, this isn’t a matter of neocatechumenate, but every serious formation within the Church must know that the Jews brought us the Messiah.
In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul also says that God doesn’t renounce his promises, because his promises are inalienable. Therefore, the election of Jews wasn’t withdrawn. I also think that it is something providential that Israel has shut down in a place of its history to the Messiah. Without it, we wouldn’t have something that is extremely helpful, that is, the Talmud. The older part of the Talmud, the Mishnah, describes many of the customs of Judaism from the time of Jesus. In short, we have an authentic testimony of Israel from the time of Jesus, which is necessary for us to understand Jesus. For many centuries, we didn’t understand that we could use it, for we didn’t know what was there. And the first Christians knew. Origen and Saint Hieronym use it. Then, for many centuries, the Jewish sources, in the form of the Talmud, the Mishnah, or the Midrashes, remained out of the way. In the meantime, these are real mines of knowledge in the time of Jesus. It wasn’t until the 20th century that we realized it. Earlier, Jews weren’t allowed to translate the Talmud into other languages. Today Talmud is available in Spanish, Russian or English. To understand the Talmud, you don’t need to know Aramaic.
 
Did the ministry in the Holy Land somehow enrich you culturally and spiritually?
Yes. Israel is a very multicultural place. There are Sephardic Jews from Morocco, Algeria and other Islamic countries who brought their culture with them to Israel, etc. There are Ashkenazi Jews from Europe and other countries. A large group of Russian Jews and now Latin American Jews also live in Israel. There are also Arabs in Israel who are very different. For there are Bedouins, Druze, Muslim Arabs. Thanks to the Middle East, I also had the opportunity to meet Messianic Jews, Protestants and Christians of various rites. This is due to the fact that Christians represent only four percent of the population in the Middle East, so they are much more in unity.
As I worked in Haifa, I had to use other rites for Christians. Getting to know the Eastern Catholic Churches was very enriching for me. The Greek Catholic liturgy wasn’t new to me, but for example, when I was working in the south of Israel, there were many refugees from Eritrea who are members of the Ethiopian Church, who returned to unity with Catholics. This is a very old rite, pre-Chalcedonian. They have a lot of beautiful old Christian customs. It is unusual to learn about this tradition, especially since in the Catholic Church, we have lost many things somewhere. For example, the Ethiopians and the Copts have married and unmarried priests. These unmarried men are more important than those married. Liturgical dance always leads an unmarried priest. We no longer have a liturgical dance at our place in the Catholic Church. The Easter vigil is also amazing for them. Both women and men wear white and spend the entire night in the parish. They make dinner. Then there is vigil and night liturgy. And then there is a morning meal. We, yes, have a liturgical vigil - the Easter Vigil, which, however, is limited to an hour or two.

However, it is slowly changing. After all, the Easter churches are celebrated in the churches where the neocatechumenal communities operate. After them, agaps take place.

It is true. The Vatican Liturgical Commission recognized that the Neocatechumenal Way restored to the Church the liturgy of the Paschal Night. The all-night vigil in the Coptic Church and in the Ethiopians, however, isn’t entirely liturgical. Anyway, the entire Ethiopian - Christian culture is fascinating. They have many Christian elements in their customs. For example, they eat bread, imzire, or leavened pancakes, which are dipped in a sauce. Eating bread in this way, you can perfectly understand the context of Jesus' words, who, when asked about who will betray him, replied that the one to whom I now dine and give a piece of bread. In this way, all the Ethiopians eat imzire. The customs of baptizing children and marriages are also beautiful, when future spouses dress like a king and queen.
January 28, 2016
 


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