On the morning of October 12, 2010, Father David Neuhaus SJ, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel, addressed the Holy Father and the Synod in Rome. Following is the text of his address.
I would like to thank the Holy Father for naming me to this Synod.
With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, waves of immigration augmented the Jewish population by millions and among the immigrants thousands of Catholics, mostly members of Jewish families, found themselves part of Jewish, Hebrew speaking, Israeli society. For reasons of language, culture and politics, they did not find their place within the predominantly Arabic speaking Local Church. The Oeuvre Saint-Jacques was founded in 1955 to respond to the pastoral need of Catholics living in Jewish society and to promote dialogue between the Church and the Jewish people. The pastoral aspect of the Oeuvre Saint-Jacques has been transformed into a Hebrew Speaking Catholic Vicariate within the Latin Patriarchate and has led to a further definition of its scope and mission within the context of a new wave of immigration bringing circa one million Russian speakers to Israel and among them tens of thousands of Christians. Today Hebrew is also a language of the Church in the Middle East (read also in Hebrew).
Today there are seven communities that serve the needs of the Hebrew and Russian speaking faithful throughout Israel. They are vibrant oases of life for these Catholics who constitute a doubly marginalized minority: within a society that is predominantly Jewish and within a Church that is predominantly Arab. We continue to work hard to render Catholic sacramental, catechetical and community life fully possible in Hebrew. We live our Christian faith embedded in a Jewish society, whose language, liturgy, feasts and practices molded the earliest Christian communities. Inculturating ourselves in this society surely evokes the earliest of the Christian communities in Jerusalem at the time of the apostles. At the same time, we are called to profound communion with our Christian Arab brothers and sisters as we pray together for justice and peace for all.
Over the years, three other Catholic populations have also begun to live in Hebrew, thus necessarily widening the scope of a Hebrew speaking Catholic Vicariate in Israel:
- Tens of thousands of Catholic migrant workers;
- Thousands of refugees who arrive from all corners of the globe;
- Tens of Christian Arab families who have moved to live in Jewish areas where Hebrew is the dominant language.
As a result of these three realities, today in the State of Israel, there are thousands of Christian children who study in Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew language schools and are admirably inculturated. It is increasingly necessary to develop the Hebrew-speaking Catholic expression so that the evangelization and catechetical formation of these populations can be carried out effectively. What is at stake is the preservation of the Christian identity of these children.
A Hebrew Speaking Vicariate has, within this context, a double mission. First, towards the Church in Israel/Palestine and the Middle East: called to help the Church move from a discourse of suspicion because of the political conflict to a discourse of respect for a religious and spiritual tradition that is intrinsically linked to the Christian faith at its very root. Second, towards Israeli Jewish society: called to help Jewish Israeli society understand the Catholic Church, her teachings and principles as well as to help Israelis become aware of the deeply rooted presence of the Church and of Christians in the Holy Land, sensitizing it to the issues that Christians face. The fact that Jews constitute the dominant majority fundamentally conditions the dialogue. Nowhere else and never before have Christians experienced directly the sovereignty of a Jewish polity. The positive side of engaging with a Jewish majority, confident and secure in a society defined by the mores of Jewish tradition is the increasing openness to Christians. This dialogue must serve both the ongoing search for a just solution to the conflict as well as the continuing Christian witness to the Resurrected Lord in the Land that was his earthly home.