IN SOME PART at least, the visit by Pope John Paul II to Baltimore reveals the esteem in which he holds Cardinal William H. Keeler. And more likely than not, at least in part, Cardinal Keeler's stature was merited by his advice and guidance as he aided the pope in the building of an astonishing bridge to the Jewish people.
The U.S. Jewish community, together with the world Jewish community, offers heartfelt praise of John Paul II for the diligent efforts to reinforce the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. From his visit to the synagogue in Rome, to his recognition of the state of Israel, he has undertaken an unprecedented series of acts to reach out to us in affection and reconciliation, breaking down ancient antagonisms and repudiating invidious stereotypes, which perpetuated the blasphemy of hostility so often characterizing our past relationships. In his visit to Baltimore, the Jewish community sees further confirmation of the pope's noble ecumenical spirit, extended not only to Jewish people, but also to all humanity, through a divine quest for universal peace and justice.
A moral leader
Pope John Paul II has emerged as one of the most significant moral leaders of all times in world history, not withstanding the continuing reality of controversy and disparate perspectives between us, which on occasion test our brotherly affection. Even within the Catholic church, there are those who respect his office and leadership but sometimes find themselves at odds with the pontiff.
Naturally, there will be differing perspectives in the continuing drama of the relationships between Jews and the Catholic church. Some fundamental issues must forever divide us if both sides are to be faithful to our historic legacy and the divine summons we each have experienced. The pope has demonstrated, by his loving embrace of humanity's diversity, his understanding of divine grace expressed through the uniqueness of dissimilar faith communities.
Goodwill to all
Indeed, as Pope John Paul II throughout his tenure shows compassion for the suffering of all oppressed peoples, so may he persevere as the spokesman of reconciliation of black and white, Christian and Jew, Muslim and Hindu, the poor and the rich of all races and creeds. Equally, may he extend his influence to ensure the blessings of freedom to those who publicly express controversial views. Suppression of, or hostility toward, diversity anywhere and everywhere must be vigorously opposed. This is a loving and urgent necessity as we confront the growing influence of fanatics and fundamentalists who distort divinity by demanding conformity.
Some bishops in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops have called for more openness and an increasing allowance for the ferment that can come to the Catholic church with a mature collegiality. That kind of collegiality -- which builds bridges without inhibiting the free flow of the currents below -- will prayerfully promote, throughout the world, the spirit of reconciliation that Pope John Paul II has so auspiciously and grandly initiated.
Along with all people of goodwill, we give thanks for his moral leadership. Along with all Baltimoreans, we give praise to God for the understanding and compassionate sensibilities of Pope John Paul II.
Rabbi Murray Saltzman leads the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.