Reflections on the Millennium
A Statement of the National Council of Synagogues
and the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical
and Interreligious Affairs,
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Baltimore, MD, May 5, 1998
The turn of the millennium in the year 2000 is increasingly the focus of
social and religious currents in virtually every facet of contemporary
culture. From the most secular to the most religiously serious, themes
of introspection, intergroup reconciliation, and idealistic aspirations
for peace, justice, and environmental concern are manifest, and are to
We speak as Jews and Christians who have benefitted from the dialogue
that has marked the last thirty years since the Second Vatican Council.
We speak at the end of a Century that Pope John Paul II has called "the
Century of the Shoah." Because of our dialogue and commitment to
continuing it, we can look forward to the next century with greater hope
and confidence than might have been thought possible just a generation
We speak as religious leaders of our communities, rabbis, bishops,
clergy and lay leaders dedicated to the path of reconciliation between
our peoples. We note the expressions of teshuvah ("repentance")
that have been uttered by Conferences of Catholic Bishops in Europe with
regard to the Holocaust and the too often tragic centuries that went
before it, as well as the recent statement by the Holy See, We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah.
We also note the consistent teaching of the Holy See since the Second
Vatican Council acknowledging the permanent validity of God's covenant
with the Jewish people. In place of past efforts of religious groups to
proselytize one another, we share a mutual respect for our two faith
traditions, each of which, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "carry
with them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God."
We are united in our concern to overcome the spread of religious
indifference. This represents "one of the outstanding phenomena of our
times, especially in the Euro-American culture. Many people live as if
God did not exist." We remain conscious of the distinctiveness of each
of our faith traditions. We seek to avoid the inauthenticity of
syncretism. We are committed to work together to bring a positive
collective image of religious affiliation to the American public. In
this regard, we plan to assess the portrayal of the religious community
in the secular media and in other modes of contemporary communication.
In this country, blessed with an ongoing dialogue between Catholics and
Jews of depth and substance, we have the opportunity to apply our
institutional and academic resources to the task it mandates to look
anew at the long history our peoples share, and to seek by joint studies
a healing of memory in order to frame a common understanding upon which
to base educational programming for future generations. While much
work remains to be done in this regard, we note as well that a solid
beginning has been made since the Second Vatican Council, a record of
achievement which offers hope for further progress toward mutual
At the end of a century which has seen in the Shoah the ultimate
form of dehumanization of a whole people, we wish to affirm and proclaim
together the sacredness of the human person. Joint reflection on our
Shared Scripture, in particular the Creation accounts of Genesis, teach
us that humanity is made in the image of God. Here, we would recommend
to dialogue groups around the country two documents issued by the
International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee. These documents draw
out for consideration shared themes drawn from our common understanding
of Creation. The first, On the Sanctity of Marriage and the Family was issued in Jerusalem in 1994. The second, Care for the Environment: A Religious Act was issued in Rome in 1998. Together, these statements can enrich local events related to the millennium.
The year 2000 has been proclaimed by the Catholic Church as a Jubilee Year.
The Hebrew Scriptures in Leviticus 25 define the meaning of the
Jubilee. Both in this chapter of the Bible and in Papal reflections
upon this theme, one can see a three-fold obligation placed on the
People of God as a mandate for national reflection. These obligations
have significance, we believe, not only for Catholics and Jews not only
for Catholics and Jews working together in joint study and action but
also for the renewal of our American society as a whole.
- The Liberation of Slaves -- Human Liberation.
Consideration of this theme (Lev. 25:39) can involve local communities
in confronting the inhuman conditions of bigotry, exploitation and
violence that enslave such a large part of America's inhabitants to this
day, and in planning and implementing educational programs and social
activities to address the problems jointly studied.
- Return of Property -- Economic Liberation.
This legislation (Lev. 25:13) was revolutionary in introducing moral
guidance into economics. It sought to prevent the permanent
accumulation of land in the hands of the few, to alleviate poverty, and
to give people another chance for achieving economic fulfillment. Its
underlying principles challenge our discussions today with regard to
welfare, tax reform and other issues within our country?
- Resting the Land -- Ecological Liberation.
Respect for the land (Lev. 25:11) and the seas can be stressed here, as
well as humanity's role as a steward (Genesis 2:15) responsible to God
for nurturing and caring for all forms of life.
Finally, as we approach the millennium, we can develop channels to work
together to witness to that which is shared in our spiritual heritage.
Not only do we bring to bear on the profound problems of our day the
riches of our separate yet related traditions, but we work together to
prepare the way for the coming of the Reign ("kingdom") of God, for
which we both pray, as a task of Tikkun Olam ("perfecting" or "repairing" the world).