Not a sound was heard at the council meeting when Augustin Cardinal Bea got up to introduce the document on the true Catholic attitude toward the Jews.
Here stood a Prince of the Church, German-born, stretching out a hand of friendship to the Jewish people, who in his homeland had suffered such atrocious persecution. Here too was a member of the highest office of the Roman curia, speaking officially for the secretariat responsible for interfaith contacts, over which he presides because the Pope wills it. And here was a Biblical scholar of world renown, equally familiar with the Old and the New Testaments, which he taught for many years at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.
Facing a microphone in front of a row of stalls reserved for the cardinals, the 82-year-old Jesuit Cardinal spoke with a firm voice, articulating every word of the statement he himself had composed with the aid of his assistants at the recommendation of the late Pope John.
Throughout the council hall you could see the thousands of cardinals and bishops following him attentively, holding before them the prepared text, which had been distributed the previous day. It was as though each council Father was holding his breath so as to miss none of Cardinal Bea’s impressive gestures, none of his telling modulation.
Everybody’s eyes were fixed on this German speaker who with the whole world as his witness was taking a firm stand in the light of Christian principles for justice and love for the people who gave humanity the Savior. Not once was he interrupted by applause. But when he had finished there was no further restraint and an ovation came from the august assembly. It was a just tribute to the purple-robed high priest who at heart is a modest scholar, a man of true charity who was translating into eloquent words the simple antiphon of the Holy Thursday liturgy: “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est” (Where charity and love are, there is God).
The immense tragedy that befell the Jewish people because of the madness and odious prejudices of a diabolical gang of usurpers who discredited the German name and misled many who were blind enough to lend themselves as instruments — now, at least, some reparation seemed to have been made when Cardinal Bea had spoken.
Now it was up to the council to put the official seal on his words, to stretch out a hand in a spirit of brotherhood to the Jewish people, whose bloodlines make them kinsmen of Jesus and the Apostles.
Father Placid Jordan, OSB
NCWC News Rome correspondent