|FORGIVE US FATHER, FOR WE HAVE SINNED
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."