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Statement urges Catholics to encounter Jesus the Jew


‘Catholic identity is intimately linked to the faith of Israel...Jesus was Jewish and our Christian tradition grew from within First Century CE Judaism.’

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These are the opening words of a new document on Catholic-Jewish relations launched by the Australian Catholic Bishops in March at Mary MacKillop Place, North Sydney.

Titled Walking Together: Catholics with Jews in the Australian Context, the Bishops’ statement has been hailed as a landmark document, and with good reason. This is the first time in 30 years that the Australian Catholic Bishops have issued such a statement. Three decades of interfaith discussions form the backdrop to Walking Together. Compared to the 1992 launch, where Catholics and Jews gathered as first-timers in a new venture of dialogue, this time they gathered as familiar friends.

Further, much has happened in the world and in interfaith dialogue over the past three decades. Walking Together articulates the hopes and dreams of the Second Vatican Council, as well as critical developments in its wake. In a remarkably succinct and reader-friendly format, the document addresses a wide range of themes such as Jesus the Jew, the Jewish roots of Christianity, God’s enduring covenant with Israel, and the importance of dialogue around a shared Scripture. It speaks, too, of the Holocaust, antisemitism, and the need to eliminate anti-Jewish bias from present day Christian preaching. It acknowledges our shared hope, collaborative works for the common good, and also touches upon the sensitive subject of ‘mission’.

Any one of these topics invites exploration of fascinating depths. Take for example, the opening statement about Jesus being a Jew. One might ask: Why is this important for Christian faith? Isn’t Jesus’ Jewish identity an incidental detail of history to be given brief acknowledgment before moving on to more important ‘spiritual’ matters? In fact, the teaching of Vatican II leads us to consider Jesus’ Jewishness as having indispensable theological meaning for Christian identity. ‘Jesus, his mother Miriam (Mary) and his followers were Jewish, Judaism is the root from which Jesus sprang’ (Walking Together, p3) Therefore the revelation of the Word-made-flesh is not an ‘out of the blue’ event; nor can Jesus be known with reference to the New Testament alone. To affirm Jesus’ Jewishness is to acknowledge the whole of salvation history that frames the Christ-event. Jesus of Nazareth is inseparable from God’s steadfast presence and action in the long history of the people of Israel, recounted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jewish ancestry, life and relationships are to be found at the very core of Christian reflection on the mystery of the incarnation.

In Galatians we read: ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law’ (4:4). That is, Jesus was born of a Jewish woman, born as a Jew. And to be a Jew is to belong to the Jewish people.

For Christians to draw close to the person of Jesus, then, is to know him as ‘enfleshed’ and ‘familied’.

To treat Jesus as an isolated figure, standing apart from his own kin, is to distort his identity as known by history and revealed in the Gospels.

Pope John Paul II once stated ‘whoever meets Jesus Christ, meets Judaism’.

In 2023, the Australian Catholic Bishops call us to a deeper encounter with the Jewish people – an imperative for fully comprehending our own Catholic tradition.

The document can be downloaded at

Teresa Pirola is a Sydney-based writer and faith educator.


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