Internally Displaced Persons: Uprooted in Their Own Land

The plight of refugees has not been featured in the news media for several months.  The Covid-19 pandemic has absorbed our attention and, more recently, we are shocked by the abuse of authority when certain police officers transgress by excessive use of force. Then perhaps we fail to consider how vulnerable these people in transit are to these threats, and we are challenged again to collaborate in education regarding rights and duties of each person in our societies.

The universal Church urges us to be aware of the multitude of refugees and other migrants who are in search of a home and future for their families. The estimated number, more than 60 million, refers to those who have been forced to flee from their country because of war or natural disaster.

On January 9, 2020 Pope Francis drew attention to “the tragedy of internally displaced people as one of the challenges of our contemporary world.” The estimated number who have been driven by terroristic acts or war from their homes and livelihood is estimated to be 20 million.

In his address for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on May 13, 2020, Pope Francis offered a challenge: “To preserve our common home and make it conform more and more to God’s original plan. We must commit ourselves to ensuring international cooperation, global solidarity and local commitment, leaving no one excluded” (Osservatore Romano, May 15, 2020 p. 7).

In order to deal with this grave situation, Cardinal Michael Czerny of the new Dicastery of the Holy See on Integral Human Development has published “Pastoral Orientations on Internally Displaced People.” It is available here on the Vatican website (48 pages).

In the past we have drawn attention to the frequent and devastating attacks on Christian communities in the northeastern areas of Nigeria. This grim situation continues as The Tablet (London) reports in “COMECE urges defence of Christians in Nigeria.” 

The New York Times published the report of Ruth Maclean, “When the Soldiers Meant to Protect You Instead Come to Kill.” Attacks by terrorists and, it seems, by government soldiers have resulted in the death of 2,000 people in the last 18 months.  Internally displaced people are estimated to be 850,000. Among the desperate needs of such refugees is collaboration of Christians, Muslims and others to become part of a healing and restoration process. The first step, however, seems to be required of governments of each country with such a major problem. In the name of common decency and in a true response to the needs of people who desire peace for their families, may leaders in these countries be inspired to service of the most vulnerable!

Pope Pius XII and Vatican Archives

Pope Pius XII, 1939, Fratelli Alinari, Florence. Unknown photographer. / Public domain

On March 2, 2020 the Vatican Archives for the reign of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) were opened for access by qualified researchers. The usual period of time before the documents relating to a papal reign are accessible has been 75 years. Pope Francis has hastened the opening in this case in response to the keen interest shown in several quarters. It might be noted that scholars, Fathers Robert Graham and Pierre Blet and others, had made twelve volumes of materials from the World War II era available, except for documents referring to persons who were still alive in 1965 (Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale). Now that 62 years have passed since the death of Pope Pius, it is unlikely that anyone mentioned in the archival holdings is still alive. Scholars can scrutinize these documents in order to develop a clearer insight into the issues that interest them.

Among the reports relating to this occasion, that of Ms. Lisa Palmieri Billig of the American Jewish Committee offers a detailed review: “Opening of Pius XII Archives: To speak or not to speak: that was the Question.” Steve Lipman’s report in the Jewish Week of March 3, 2020 quotes Jewish leaders in interfaith dialogue.

As we examine our conscience in preparing to worship, we acknowledge failure in thoughts, words, deeds and omissions. To what extent will Pope Pius XII’s reasons for failing to speak bluntly be evident from the archives? A serious reason for Pope Pius XII’s circumspection during the War years has been presented by Mark Riebling in Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War against Hitler (New York: Basic Books, 2015).  In his review for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (2016) p. 558-60, Father Kevin Spicer of Stonehill College, who has worked extensively on the German Church and clergy during the Nazi period, comments: “[Mr. Riebling] does offer evidence of contact between the Holy See and German resistance, but fails to substantiate any direct linkages… Only the opening of the papers of Pius XII’s pontificate, together perhaps with research in other repositories, will enable us to evaluate fairly the Pope’s legacy in the face of the Holocaust.”  This investigation is now possible, so we wish researchers well in their work!

The death of Mr. Rolf Hochhuth in Berlin on May 13, 2020, was the occasion for a lengthy obituary in The New York Times. As older readers may recall, the play Der Stellvertreter (The Deputy) dramatized the accusation that Pope Pius XII was silent regarding the persecution and genocide perpetuated against European Jewry. As a young German who struggled with the question of responsibility for such a horrendous destruction of life, Hochhuth strove to make the Pope responsible. He is quoted as writing: “Perhaps never before in history have so many people paid with their lives for the passivity of one single politician.” Thus, questions about the ascent of Adolf Hitler to the highest office in German political life and German acquiescence to the atrocities of his dictatorship were avoided. “For the Germans (the performance) was catharsis,” according to Louise Kerz Hirschfeld, quoted in the obituary. For some people, theatre and film productions have become an ersatz religion, seeming to provide a way to deal with issues of conscience. Did a question enter the minds of those “purified” by seeing The Deputy: “Would people like me listen to the Pope if he had spoken in crystal clear terms? Would we be moved into defiance of Nazi power? How would we have dealt with the inevitable reprisal?”

Among the statements by the national Catholic hierarchies of Hungary, Germany, Poland, Holland, France, Switzerland, Italy and the United States, published in the booklet Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington: U.S. Catholic Conference, 1998), I draw attention to that of the German bishops. They acknowledge: “We looked too fixedly at the threat to our own institutions and remained silent about the crimes committed against the Jews and Judaism” (p. 11). Recently, on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, the German bishops have examined the record of their predecessors during the Nazi era: see The Tablet of May 11, 2020. The German Bishops’ 25 page document, which you may access here, will be examined carefully by people of many backgrounds. Relations between religious leaders and the political forces of many nations in our time should be scrutinized for lessons that spring from this analysis of the Churches in the Nazi era.

Anti-Jewish Vandal in Montreal

It was reported recently that the desecration of a Montreal-area synagogue was “one of the worst such incidents to take place in Canada in years.” Next to the direct attack on human beings, the destruction of what they hold sacred is reprehensible to the greatest degree!

At the biennial meeting in May 2001 of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and The International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the joint statement on sacred sites issued at that time should be circulated again.

Already in the 1950s, Montreal was the place were positive Catholic-Jewish relations were initiated by Sister Marie Noelle de Baillehache of the Sisters of Sion. In the spirit of collaboration and learning over the decades, we are assured that efforts to defend the synagogues of Montreal and other cities will be complemented by a renewed concern for the education of the younger generation.  May the blessings of peace be shared by all people of good will there and everywhere!

Art Exhibits in a Time of Restrictions

The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577–79 by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), part of the exhibit, “El Greco: Ambition and Defiance,” at Art Institute of Chicago.

From time to time the museums and art galleries of many countries share their treasures along with loans that offer a unique perspective on given artists and themes. The celebration of Jan Van Eyck and the Ghent Altarpiece was noted in previous blog posts here and here. The terrible threat of the corona virus has cast a dismal shadow over so many lives, and we pray for all the families who have lost loved ones.

The New York Times published the essay by Sophie Haigney, “When the Virus Came, Some Museum Curators Lost Years of Work,” and The Wall Street Journal drew attention to the marvels of technology whereby “videos and documentaries offer an enlightened alternative.”  In “The Staying Inside Guide: Opening Windows Onto Closed Exhibitions,” Lance Esplund draws attention to the following exhibits that may be of interest:

As we experience an extended quiet time for contemplation of the mysteries of life, this can be supplemented by exploration of the ways artists share their vision.

A Plague of Locusts

The challenge to provide food for families and other groups is taken in stride by most of us in this society; for this we are ever grateful! However, the specter of want in this time of pandemic has led to hoarding as some people look ahead to a grim time of want. This is not a sign of maturity in any society!

As people everywhere face problems in moving crops from the field to the market and table, some countries in East Africa find that a prudent response to the danger of Covid-19 is complicated by another dismal threat. A plague of locusts is an ominous cloud on the horizon and already the first wave has “destroyed a swath of farmland across eight East African nations as large as Oklahoma this year.” Thus began the report, “’Locust-19’ is Set to Swarm East Africa” by Nicholas Bariyo and Joe Parkinson in The Wall Street Journal print edition of April 30, 2020 (p. A 16). After describing the inadequate efforts to spray breeding grounds, the article concludes: “Experts say it is crucial to attack the second swarm before it lays eggs again and a third wave – which could be perhaps 20 times bigger – could arrive in June, the peak harvest season.” This is confirmed by Samini Sengupta’s report, “What a Week’s Disasters Tell Us About Climate and the Pandemic” in The New York Times.

A second wave of locust swarms have also moved into India this week, attacking seasonal crops. The government is monitoring the situation and responding with pesticides, but this will come with other consequences in the long term, as Neeta Lal noted in her article, “India’s Second Plague: Locusts:”

There is no quick-fix solution to the locust menace. Beyond chemicals, pesticides, and drones, it is imperative to tackle the root cause of global warming and invest in upgrading climate resilience and adaptation techniques. An expensive and complex process, this will require global cooperation and coordination. But it has to be done. Else, as these pernicious pests have demonstrated, the costs will be staggering and recurring.

See also “India combats locust attack amid Covid-19 pandemic” by

Emily King’s essay, “Another Plague” in Commonweal, refers to a report by Keith Cressman, the United Nations senior locust-forecasting officer. “The desert locust now threatens the food security of a region that was already contending with intense drought, floods, heavy rains, and war. The emergence of the locust threat, according to Cressman, has the potential to ‘tip the balance into extreme food insecurity’ for these vulnerable countries.”

We think back to the plague of locusts in Egypt (Exodus 10:12-20) and in the land of Israel to the vivid description of flying and creeping swarms by the prophet Joel (chapters 1-2) and express gratitude that we have been spared! Did the author of the New Testament Book of Revelation recall a personal experience of locusts when he recorded the vision of locusts at the fifth trumpet? They arise from the abyss at service of Abaddon, the Destroyer, to torment those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads (Apocalypse 9:1-11). Such visions of the future are always intended to bring a moral response from listeners in their own time. The challenging question: The reflection of whose image are we impressing into the work that we do?

The fear of famine, especially now in East African nations and India, becomes a second threat to these people who face Covid-19 with far fewer resources than we have. May the agencies of the United Nations take the initiative to help those in need! Besides prayer, you may also want to visit the following websites to learn how you may help:

  • The ecumenical initiative, Season of Creation, which encourages a worldwide celebration of prayer and action to protect our common home

Father Francis Morrisey, OMI- Requiescat in Pace

Father Francis G. Morrisey, OMI, Ph.D., JCD
(1936 – 2020)

The death of my classmate, Father Francis Morrisey, on May 23, 2020 in Ottawa brings a stellar servant of the Gospel to the completion of a priestly ministry with an impact on the universal Church.

From 1958-62 we studied theology and related subjects at St. Paul’s Seminary in Ottawa. As an Oblate of Mary Immaculate in the French province, Frank was a scholastic while I was a seminarian for the diocesan priesthood. He was always a cheery presence in the breaks between class. He went on to study Canon Law in a faculty that included great professors like Father Germain Lesage, OMI. Frank and I studied the 1917 Codex Juris Canonici, promulgated by Pope Benedict XV. In the preface to this Code, Cardinal Gaspari declared that it would endure until the end of time! However, Pope John XXIII convoked a commission to revise the Code; Father Morrissey was a contributor to this work that was promulgated in 1983. The vision of the Church as People of God in the New Covenant permeates the vision of the Law at the service of the faithful. The work of interpreting and applying the Gospel in delicate situations of tension within the Church and the wider society occupied Frank’s attention for the rest of his life.

“In recognition of his generous use of…expertise on behalf of health care professionals in the U.S., Canada and the world,” Fr. Morrisey received Catholic Health Association’s (CHA) Lifetime Achievement Award on June 10, 2019. CHA commemorated this honor with the video below:

On May 6, 2020, Saint Paul University awarded Fr. Morrisey the Eugène de Mazenod Medal. This medal honours individuals who have made significant contributions to make their community, their environment and society as a whole more just and humane.

“The Church has been enriched by Frank’s selfless outpouring and, through the Church, cultures and societies throughout the world have also been enriched,” noted Monsignor John Renken, Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law at Saint Paul University. “He was esteemed and admired by a plethora of social innovators, church leaders and professional colleagues. He showed himself to be a faithful son of Saint Eugène de Mazenod, who envisioned bringing healing and hope to the peripheries of his own day. Frank has done the same in today’s world.” From St. Paul’s University (Ottawa, Canada) Reflection on Fr. Francis Morrisey

We pray for the happy repose of Father Morrisey’s soul, with the hope that he has been welcomed already into the Kingdom as a good and faithful servant!

Victory in Europe

Winston Churchill Waves to Crowd After V-E Day, End of War in Europe. Public Domain.

On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. The “Act of Military Surrender” was signed in Rheims, France in the headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied commander. It went into effect on May 8th, ending the terrible conflict that began with the Nazi attack on Poland on September 1, 1939.

The report by military historian Rick Atkinson in The Wall Street Journal ends with Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s words on the challenge of rebuilding devastated Europe: “Forward, unflinching, unswerving, indomitable, till the whole task is done and the whole world safe and clean.” I presume that he meant safe from military attack and from polluting and polemical rhetoric.

The Wall Street Journal also published Benjamin Balint’s review of the biography of historian Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1915-1990) by Nancy Sinkoff, From Left to Right (Detroit: Wayne State Press). Dawidowicz’s book, The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975) was very important. Balint remarks “where others had interpreted the genocide of the Jews more as a byproduct of the impersonal machinery of Germany’s war aims than a result of any special anti-Jewish animus, Dawidowicz understood what the Germans euphemistically call the ‘Final Solution’ as an intentional part of Nazi racial ideology, and end in itself.”

The tragedy of the entire Nazi period began in 1933 with official acts of bigotry against the Jews in Germany, as well as promotion of every kind of violence that culminated in the horrendous atrocities against Jews under the cover of war, blaming them for the world’s woes.

We have hoped that concerted efforts on the part of many people of good will to eliminate such hatred have been successful. However, Rabbi David Sandmel of the Anti-Defamation League has given a somber message recently: see “On Social Media, Haredi and Orthodox Jewish Communities are Scapegoated and Blamed for Covid-19.” The work of education and alert reactions to signs of stereotyping in local communities continue to be necessary everywhere!

“The Jews” in the Gospel of John

The work of a translator is much appreciated so that ideas can be shared across cultures. Translating the Bible is a wonderful service to the faithful and to all who are curious, but the task is fraught with challenges, which Ronald Knox described in Trials of a Translator (New York, Sheed & Ward, 1949).

In the mid-1950s La Bible de Jerusalem constituted a great service to the Church in Francophone countries, coordinated by the Dominicans of L’Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. The translation into English needed improvements so the Jerusalem Bible of 1966 gave way to the New Jerusalem Bible in 1985, under the supervision of the Benedictine scholar Henry Wansbrough. Recently he launched the Revised New Jerusalem Bible at St. Benet’s Hall in Oxford. Margaret Hebblethwaite reported in this event in The Tablet under the title “The search for the right word of God.”

This report, with the superscription “The Gospels and anti-Semitism,” focuses on the challenge to translators with regard to the Greek work ioudaios in the plural, used 70 plus times in John and traditionally rendered “the Jews.” The term usually refers to the religious leaders in Jerusalem, who investigated the identity of John the Baptist (John 1:19) and the reason for Jesus’ disruptive action in the Temple area (2:19). The polite tone of their inquiry gave way to intense hostility after Jesus healed the paralyzed man at the pool Bethesda on the Sabbath (5:15-18).

In October 1997 I gave a paper at an international intra-ecclesial conference in the Vatican on “Anti-Judaism in the Christian Environment.” I sketched the scholarly efforts after the Second Vatican Council to deal with this problem for translators, which you can access and download here.

Among recent contributions to this topic, I wish to draw attention to the judicious and irenic statements in The Jewish Annotated New Testament edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, second edition), especially to Joshua Garroway’s essay “Ioudaios” (p. 596-99) and Adele Reinhartz’s commentary on the Gospel according to John (p. 172-73). These succinct efforts to grapple with a thorny issue deserve our careful attention.

Another recent contribution to biblical scholarship with a pastoral and spiritual perspective is The Paulist Biblical Commentary, edited by José Enrique Aguilar Chiu and others (New York: Paulist Press, 2018). Francis J. Moloney’s commentary on John reviews the topic under “Special Issues” (p. 1109-10). “The expression ‘the Jews’ does not indicate an ethnic group, but those who make a theological and christological decision against Jesus of Nazareth… In the Gospel of John, ‘the Jews’ are not a race; such an interpretation must be rejected energetically.”

How can the pastor deal with the anti-Jewish bigotry that may be aroused among the people listening to the Gospel on Good Friday and on The Second Sunday of Easter (“for fear of the Jews” in 20:19)? A brief statement can be read before the Passion is proclaimed on Good Friday to recall the message of the Second Vatican Council in the Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate): “True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (John 19:16); still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” A clarification that in these texts “the Jews” means the religious authorities in Jerusalem can be made on other occasions. Of course, there should be opportunities for all the faithful to engage in Bible study so that their faith is enriched and the misinterpretation by generalization or stereotype is overcome.

Translators are to be praised for their attention to this problem, but education is the ongoing challenge for all teachers in the parish and school. To end on a benign note, I draw attention to the fine essay by Professor Otto Betz, “To Worship God in Spirit and Truth: Reflections on John 4:20-26” in the J.M. Oesterreicher Festschrift Standing Before God (New York: Ktav, 1981, p. 53-72). “Salvation is from the Jews” is understood in light of Genesis 49:10-11, pointing to Jesus as the Savior of the world (John 4:42).

The Events of Jesus’ Passion and the Divine Office

Seven times a day I praise you because your edicts are just (Psalm 119:164)

In the Biblical tradition the number seven symbolizes completeness. Each day sacrifice of a year-old lamb (plus flour, oil and wine) was offered in morning and late afternoon for the forgiveness of sins. Christians followed the Jewish practice of praying at the time of these sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. In Egypt and the Holy Land hermits and monks prayed the Psalms and Canticles throughout the day. In Italy St. Benedict (480?-550) organized those texts into a weekly cycle. This Divine Office, called Opus Dei (the work of God) was spread over the entire day, in seven “Hours” for the community to gather in worship. This begins in the very early morning (Matins), followed by Lauds (Praise), then Prime (6 a.m.) followed by the “Little Hours” (Terce, Sext and None) at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Vespers came in the late afternoon and Compline was the night prayer. The Gospel texts for Lauds (Luke 1:68-79 by Zechariah), Vespers (1:46-55 by Mary) and Compline (2:29-32 by Simeon) are the Lucan hymns, with the Canticle of the Angels (2:14 expanded) on Sunday and feast days.

After the Second Vatican Council, there came a major change in the Divine Office of the Roman Rite. The Psalms are recited on a four week cycle and people may choose one of the “Little Hours” rather than all three. This is an acknowledgement that the diocesan clergy need not be held to the ideals of the monastic community.

Christian piety began early to develop a deep sense of devotion to the suffering and death of Jesus (see Galatians 2:19-21; 6:14; 1 Peter 2:21-25). Thus, Friday was a day of fast and abstinence from meat (see Mark 2:20). Every Sunday was “the Lord’s Day (Dies Dominica),” celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week.

The hymns for the “Little Hours” commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit at the third hour (9 a.m.; see Acts 2:15) and the time Jesus spent on the cross, when darkness covered the land from the sixth to the ninth hour (Mark 15:33 and parallels). Tradition-ally the special Liturgy on Good Friday begins at 3 p.m. In many places from noon to 3 p.m. the Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross are the subject of a communal meditation, with homilies and sacred music, the latter composed by renowned European musicians.

In addition to the Liturgy, Christians developed many practices to cultivate their devotion to the work of salvation accomplished by Jesus. Pilgrimage to the Holy Land began in the second century, with a focus on Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Repentance for sins led to forgiveness as God’s gift through the sacrifice of Jesus. The Way of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary were prayers of the laity to meditate on the events of Jesus’ life.

The Benedictine Pope St. Gregory I (Pope from 590-604) is credited with prayers that link the Seven Hours of the Divine Office with the stages of the Passion (see below).  Note the last line of verse one: The reference to Jews should be limited to the Priestly leaders and those who followed them, not to all Jews then alive, nor to Jews of later times (Vatican Council II, Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate of October 28, 1965). Another prayer from the same manuscript addresses Jesus through the five wounds of the crucifixion. Thus, did Christian unite the passing hours of each day with the “Hour” of Jesus in the Paschal Mystery of his death-and-resurrection.

Download (PDF, 180KB)

 

The Death of Jesus

Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Anthony van Dyck / Public domain

The Gospel for the Passion (Palm) Sunday for Year A of the three year cycle of Sunday readings is from Matthew. The dramatic proclamation of the Passion Narrative evokes the profound realization in the congregation: our faith emphasizes that Jesus died for our sins and rose for us to be brought into right order with God the Father (see Romans 4:25; Corinthians 15:3-5).

In the Good Friday service, each Christian is invited to adore Jesus as the crucified Lord, again recalling that he died for our sins. The traditional chant during this ceremony was the “Reproaches,” often misinterpreted by the commentators to be an indictment of the Jews. Indeed, the choir sings the verses in biblical terms but the choir’s response to each verse concludes, “Have mercy on us.” See my and J.F. Henderson’s essay in The Liturgy of the Medieval Church (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005) p. 187-214.  The comment of Bishop William Durand (1230-1296) on the Palm Sunday liturgy shows the true Christian approach to the liturgical commemoration of the sufferings of Jesus:

We must rejoice concerning the fruit of his Passion, and suffer with him, because he suffered for us.  We rejoice, therefore, of the love which he showed for us on the cross, and we are sad because of our sins, which are so many, on account of which the Son of God had to suffer. (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum VI.37.11)

Extending the liturgical experience of divine forgiveness, various practices and devotions developed over the centuries to reinforce our sense of gratitude for the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death-and-resurrection. However, even here the anti-Jewish prejudices might be asserted. When in Copenhagen overnight in 2006, I was surprised to hear Angelus bells early in the next morning. I found the Sacred Heart church nearby and paid a visit. The Stations of the Cross were painted very nicely with a feature that I hope was never found elsewhere. In the corner of the first station, Jesus being condemned by Pontius Pilate, was a figure with a scroll. The words in Latin were visible: “Sanguis eius super nos et super filios nostros – His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matthew 27:25). A small version of the same person holding the scroll was incorporated into each of the next 13 stations. What a distortion of the pious purpose of this substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem!

I wish to draw attention to the recent commentary on Matthew’s Gospel by Father Brendan Byrne, S.J.  This quotation is taken from the Paulist Biblical Commentary (Paulist Press, 2018) p. 967:

No single verse in Matthew’s Gospel needs more careful consideration than the cry of “the whole people” in verse 25.  There is no need to labor the injury it has caused to Jewish people since the earliest times.  Where Matthew has previously referred to the “crowd(s)” (ochlos [oi] [27:15, 20, 24]), at this point he writes “the whole people” (pas ho laos), a term principally used in the Gospel (albeit mostly in scriptural quotations) of the nation (of Israel) as a whole (1:21; 2:6; 4:16, 23; 13:15; 15:18), though often in the stock phrases “scribes/elders of the people” (2:4; 21:23; 26:3, 47; 27:1).  It is by no means clear, however, that “people” (laos) in verse 25 refers to the nation as a whole, let alone Jewish people for all time.  Since Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem there has been a distinction between the crowds who accompanied him and the people of Jerusalem itself (see 21:8-11), Jerusalem that he has already characterized as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (23:37).  It is likely, then, that “people” here refers specifically to the populace of Jerusalem.

Likewise, the final phrase, “and on our children,” is to be interpreted strictly.  Along with Luke (23:27-31) and the author of the Fourth Gospel (11:47-48), Matthew sees the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and burning of the temple in 70 CE as divine punishment for the city’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah.  The generation that would be alive to suffer these events would be precisely the “children” of those who had accepted responsibility for Jesus’ blood some forty years before.  It is to this generation, then- and to no other beyond it- that the phrase “and on our children” refers.  The text provides no justification for a “blood guilt” passed on down subsequent generations within the whole of Judaism.

I thank him for this succinct and pertinent interpretation of the passage that has been the basis of accusations against the Jewish people of later times. Rather, we should recall the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The Church always held and continues to hold that Christ out of infinite love freely underwent suffering and death  because of the sins of all people, so that all might attain salvation” (Declaration of the Church’s Relations to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra aetate 4).