Waves of threats against Jewish community centers and mass desecrations of Jewish cemeteries don’t sound like they belong in 21st-century America. And yet, here we are. Anti-Semitism is alive, well and disturbingly emboldened in recent weeks.
The vandalism of Jewish cemeteries around St. Louis and Philadelphia, and the dozens of bomb threats — most recently on Feb. 27 in 11 states, the fifth such wave of threats since January — puts Americans, and particularly U.S. Catholics, in a position of shaking off complacency and finding a response.
In his January address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, Pope Francis said, “For many people today, peace appears as a blessing to be taken for granted, for all intents an acquired right to which not much thought is given.” But according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 917 active hate groups in the United States in 2016, with neo-Nazi chapters, white nationalist and anti-Muslim groups each numbering about 100. Racist skinhead groups numbered 78, and Holocaust denial groups numbered 10. And while authorities believe some of the recent threats came from overseas, Americans cannot insulate our minds from the possibility of evil in our midst.
In his March 2000 visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel, Pope St. John Paul II refused to take anything for granted even at the relatively peaceful dawn of a new millennium, over a half-century after the end of the Holocaust. “We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail,” he said.
In a Feb. 24 statement, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, also called for active rejection of hatred.
“I encourage everyone to remember their neighbor, to find the opportunities to be lights of resistance, resilience and persistence during these contentious times, especially with all our brothers and sisters of faith,” Bishop Rozanski wrote.
These words evoke the potential of people of faith to witness to goodness and peace, as well as the great guiding light Catholic doctrine provides. The Second Vatican Council’s document on non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate (1965), unequivocally “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
This is not a timid response. Nor should ours be — whether to hatred against Jews, Muslims or people who just look like “the other,” such as the two men from India shot (one fatally) in a Kansas bar Feb. 22 by a man who reportedly yelled, “Get out of my country!”
Pope Francis offered a nontimid response in a Feb. 9 address to a delegation from the Anti-Defamation League.
“Faced with too much violence spreading throughout the world, we are called to a greater nonviolence, which does not mean passivity, but active promotion of the good. Indeed, if it is necessary to pull out the weeds of evil, it is even more vital to sow the seeds of goodness: to cultivate justice, to foster accord, to sustain integration, without growing weary; only in this way may we gather the fruits of peace.”
The remedies against rising hatred, the pope concluded, are information and formation, opportunity for everyone, and promoting culture and religious freedom. These acts of solidarity, far from passivity, neutralize hate with understanding and get at the roots of what makes people vulnerable to voices that foment hate and seek to draw power from it.
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor