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The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 799-800

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Paul VI.—Rom und Jerusalem. Konzil, Pilgerfahrt, Dialog der Religionen. By Thomas Brechenmacher and Hardy Ostry. (Trier: Paulinus Verlag. 2000. Pp. 303. €18.90.)

With Pope John Paul II's journeys outside Italy approaching the one hundred mark, it is difficult to appreciate the astonishment caused by Pope Paul VI's announcement at the end of his address on December 4, 1963, the closing day of Vatican Council II's second session, that he would undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem exactly one month later. In preparation since the previous September (prior to the opening of the Council's second session on October 11), the trip was a personal initiative of the Pope. Though two of his aides had flown to Jerusalem in November to plan the itinerary, and though the number of others informed was not small, there was not even a rumor of the Pope's intention until he exploded his bombshell. This secrecy, almost unprecedented for Rome, was a tribute to the care with which Paul had selected those charged with the planning.

Speculation about the Pope's intention in making the trip approached that which had greeted his predecessor's announcement of the Council five years earlier. Though the Holy See had no diplomatic relations with either Jordan (then in control of east Jerusalem) or Israel, the Pope would meet with officials of both governments, and with Orthodox prelates, including the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. There were also possible implications for the Council's proposed declaration on the Jews, already the cause of sharp controversy at the second session. In this fraught situation people had difficulty accepting the Pope's repeated assurance that he was going as a simple pilgrim.

In the first hundred pages of this book Thomas Brechenmacher describes in great detail the preparation for the journey, the widespread advance speculation about its significance, the crowded and sometimes tumultuous events of its three-day duration, and the Pope's triumphal return to Rome, where he was received at the airport at nightfall by the Italian President and his government. Despite darkness and cold, jubilant throngs greeted Paul on his two-hour drive to the Vatican in an open car: "The greatest and most moving reception any Pope had received for a century." Addressing the cardinals the same evening, the Pontiff, clearly moved, recounted his warm reception in the Holy Land, especially by Patriarch Athenagoras.

In the pages following, Hardy Ostry describes in similar detail the stormy controversies and Byzantine intrigues preceding the Council's passage of its declaration on the Jews (Nostra aetate) at its final session in 1965. Opposition [End Page 799] came from Near Eastern Catholics, small in number and dependent on the goodwill of Arab governments. They were supported by powerful sympathizers in the Roman Curia. Before the Council's final session an Italian bishop demonstrated that anti-Judaism was not dead by declaring in an article that responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ fell not only on the Jews of his day but on all Jews today.

Jewish spokesmen several times almost torpedoed the efforts of their Catholic friends by indiscretions, moving the American Rabbi Marc H. Tannenbaum to say in 1964 that if the Council approved its declaration on the Jews, it would be "in spite of the Jews, not because of them." Cardinal Bea refused to give up, despite numerous setbacks. He had strong support from western European and especially from American bishops. The latter made a condemnation of anti-Semitism a personal cause célèbre at the Council.

The book is an example of meticulous German scholarship at its best. In contrast to most such works, it is consistently interesting. The account of the struggle for the Council's declaration on the Jews could almost be called a page-turner.


John Jay Hughes
Archdiocese of St. Louis



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