By Elli Wohigelernter, April 15, 2001
(April 19) -  Hundreds of Christians,  led by a nun who grew up in Nazi Germany, came to Jerusalem this week to publicly confess the role that Christian anti-Semitism played in the Holocaust.

When millions of Jews paused today to reflect on the great tragedy that befell the nation in the 20th Century, they will not be alone. Joining  them will be seven  hundred Christians from  around the world who are coming to Jerusalem to declare openly: 
"We have sinned against the Jewish people for two thousand years, it led to the Holocaust, and we are sorry."

The  Conference,  entitled
"Changing The Future By Confronting The Past," has a similar purpose,  as  stated  in  its brochure: "a time  to reflect, to repent, to get right with G-D and our elder brother Israel, writing  a  new page  in  Christian  history. " After  all, confession and repentance are as much a part of Christianity as Judaism, though this group is not seeking a pardon from the Jews.

"We  are  not  coming  to  ask  for forgiveness," says sister Pista,  a member of the Evangelical  Sisterhood of Mary, a Protestant denomination in Germany that is sponsoring the conference.

"We wish to admit  the  crimes that we Germans  have done, and all that Christianity is guilty of for 2000 years. We really wish to say we have greatly  sinned -and this is  where we can only cry to G-d for mercy - and to say it here, that you may understand that we wish to turn over a new leaf."

Joining in the  conference  at Ramat RAHEL  are protestant representatives from 22 countries and various denominations, including Reformed, Angelicans, Presbyterians, Free Church, Luthern, and also a Catholic speaker.  The  highlight of the three-day affair is a repentance service that will take place at 4:30 p.m. next thursday on Holocaust Martyr's and Hero's Remembrance Day.

The service is al -encompassing, enunciating  clearly the  extent of  2000 years of Christian  teaching: 
"From the days of the early Church fathers who claimed the Jewish  people were  being  punished  for  'murdering'  G-D  and  taught  that  they should be 'continually humiliated'. 

"To  the  age  of  the Reformation  and  the  advent  of  the  Protestantism, when  the Reformer Martin Luther  himself  called for Jewish Synagogues to be set on fire, Jewish homes destroyed, and all Jews expelled from the country.

"To  the modern  era  and  the Holocaust  when  international Christian  indifference contributed to the closing of doors to the Jewish refugees  at  a  time  when  their  very  lives  were  in  danger.  We  and  our  forefathers  have  sinned!  Christian  anti-Semitism  has  become  so  entrenched  that  it  has  shaped  the  attitudes  of ordinary people throughout the world, regardless  of Christian tradition or political persuasion.

This conference was not a sudden inspiration by the Sisters of Mary,  but is part of an on-going focus of their mission since  1947, when it was founded by Mother Basilea and Mother Martyra to do penitence for the sins of Nazi Germany.

As  national  president  of  Women's  Division  of  The  German  Student  Christian  Movement  from  1933-1935,  Mother Basilea- then known as Klara Schlink - refused to comply with Nazi edicts barring Jewish Christians from meetings.

Later,  during  the  war, she  put  her own  life  at  risk  by  speaking  publicly  about  the 
"unique destiny" of  the Jews,  whom she continued  to  describe  as  "G-D's  people." Twice she was summoned for questioning by the gestapo, but managed to avoid arrest.

After  the  war  and  the  formation of  the  Sisterhood,  Mother  Basilea - who  died  last  month at 96 - gathered documentation of the concentration camps and would read it aloud to the sisters along with passages of scriptures.

Moreover, says  Sister  Pista, 
"Mother Basilea  prayed  with  us  over  40 years in our Israel prayer, which we pray as Christians when   the  Sabbath  begins  on  Friday   night: ' WE  DID  NOT  LOVE  YOUR  CHOSEN  PEOPLE:  WE  HAVE  SINNED PREVIOUSLY;  OUR  HANDS  ARE  STAINED  WITH  BLOOD"'

Thus inspired, the two sisters came to live in Jerusalem in 1957,  serving  oluntarily  as nurses  at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer.

"They felt the depth of the pain" says sister Pista," because many of the women they served turned to the wall when they came into the room."

Then on April 18, 1961 - three days after the start of Eichmann trial - the sisterhood dedicated  Beth Abraham,  a small guest house on Rehov Ein Gedi, in Jerusalem where Holocaust survivers can come for rest and relaxation.

"We  take them  just  for  a  holiday, a  refreshment,"  says sister Pista, adding,  without  prompting, "We  have  no  missionary purpose whatsoever,"

Today  the  sisterhood  comprises  two  hundred  nuns,  most of whom live at the  order's  headquarters at Kanaan, Germany, near Frankfurt, a cloistered area of twenty-five acres of parkland and gardens.  Their day begins with prayers at 5:30 a.m. , and bedtime is 9:00 p.m.

The sisterhood ranks among the world's  top producers and distributers of Christian films and videos, which are broadcast in every language.  They also produce books,  flyers,  and pamplets  that are translated into eighty languages and are distributed world-wide. They compose hymns sung by their congregations in twenty countries, in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Indeed,  thirty-three  new  instrumental pieces of  classical music and laments have been written for the conference and repentance service.

"No clapping, no shouting, no dancing," says sister Pista.   "I  am  sure  if  we  do it in earnest then we will come through - as you read  in many  places of  the  prophets,  'joy  comes  out  of  repentance.'  Real joy, not superficial, out of real repentance.  Not the superficial skipping and leaping, but deep joy."
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