On Monday, October 25, the University Francisco de Vitoria of Madrid, a Catholic university that has more than 8,000 students, will award to Kiko Argüello, initiator together with Carmen Hernández of the Neocatechumenal Way, and Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Religious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, the Doctorate Honoris Causa for the great contribution to the Jewish-Catholic dialogue, promoting a historical rapprochement between Jews and Christians of which has not happened in centuries.
This act is the recognition not only of Kiko, but also of Carmen Hernández, as initiators of a path of Christian initiation, which in the last half century has led thousands of Catholics around the world to rediscover the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. This rediscovery has birthed a great love for our elder brothers and parents in the faith, the people of Israel, to which hundreds of Orthodox rabbis have responded with a historic declaration on Christianity as God’s covenant with the Gentiles. To understand the true meaning of this act, it is necessary to learn some of the history.
In 1964, a community was formed with Kiko and Carmen in the shantytown of Palomeras Altas in the outskirts of Madrid, which brought together the poorest in every sense. Kiko, who came from a deep experience of existentialism, through the suffering of the innocent, saw the Servant of the Lord appear, described by Isaiah: “in front of whom one covers one’s face“: thanks to Carmen, who had rediscovered the Paschal mystery in her life, the resurrection appeared with enormous force: the fulfillment in Jesus Christ of all the expectation of each Jewish liturgy, the victory over death. Carmen has always affirmed that the center of the liturgical and theological renewal of the Second Vatican Council is the rediscovery of the paschal mystery and the return to the earliest sources and, therefore, to the mystery of Israel. For this reason, it is necessary to read Scripture, the Old and New Testaments, in the light of the paschal mystery and of the historical, geographical, liturgical and moral context of Israel.
The rediscovery of the spiritual heritage of Judaism in each act of Jesus and the permanent salvific and eschatological role of Israel, together with the aforementioned experience, began to configure a path of a catechumenal type, which would give preparation to receive the free gift of divine life shown in the Sermon on the Mount. Monsignor Casimiro Morcillo, the then-Archbishop of Madrid, invited Kiko and Carmen to bring this Way to all the parishes.
From these hidden beginnings, this Way gradually spread throughout the world, helping to rediscover Christianity, lived in a Christian community, not as a moralism, but as a gift that is realized in the Word of God and in the Sacraments, which transmit the divine life, a heart of flesh, fulfillment of all the promises of Israel.
In 2010, Kiko composed a symphony on “The Suffering of the Innocents”, which in 2011 was presented at the Domus Galilaeae International Center, on the Mount of Beatitudes (Galilee, Israel) in front of a group of American bishops and numerous rabbis. The reaction was enormously favorable and Kiko saw the importance of “making known also in New York, through music, this relationship of love that God has given us with the Jewish people.”
In 2012, this prayer and symphonic homage for the suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and for the suffering of each innocent person, was performed at the Lincoln Center in New York before some three thousand Jews, several cardinals and dozens of rabbis.
On that occasion, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg recognized Christianity not as an idolatry but as a providential intervention of God to bring knowledge of the Torah to the pagans: “More than 3,150 years have passed since the Holy One, the Blessed One, made a covenant with the people of Israel, a covenant of redemption for the world. It is almost 2,000 years since the God of Love opened this covenant of redemption to the other nations through Christianity. For 2,000 years God has waited and desired that the peoples of the covenants of redemption work together.”
This revolutionary declaration prepared grounds in the following year for a meeting at Auschwitz the following year where, in front of many rabbis, dozens of bishops and thousands of people, the symphony was performed. Kiko began the meeting with these words: “I entered one of the barracks in Auschwitz and got down on my knees; I have opened the Scripture and the passage that has came by chance was: “A rabbi asks our Lord Jesus: ‘Master, what is the first commandment of the Law?’, and Christ answers: ‘Shema, Israel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Ehad. The Lord is One: you will love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself… ‘. And the rabbi said: ‘You say well, Master, that loving God with all your heart is the first and greatest of all the commandments.’ As the rabbi tells him this, Jesus replies: ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God.’ So, you rabbis, who are here in Auschwitz and love the Shema: You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
In 2015, at the request of numerous rabbis, including Rosenbaum of New York, Rosen of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Greenberg, a meeting was organized between rabbis, bishops and itinerant catechists at the Domus Galilaeae. Rosen, addressing the brothers of the Way present, said that in that music he had intuited “that you understand what makes us suffer.”
Rabbi Broadman, being moved, saw in that meeting of communion and love between rabbis and Christians who together chanted the Shema, a sign that the Messiah is about to come: “The Bible tells us that when the Messiah is about to come, the world will be filled with the knowledge of the Almighty. And I say to you: Thank you, thank you! Jews and Christians who together serve the Almighty, the Almighty himself, we have more in common than differences. We have to proclaim from the rooftops that the Messiah is coming. When I say that I meet Christians, many say to me: ‘Are you crazy?’ And yet everyone should know that this is happening so that we can be prepared for the coming of the Messiah.”
Kiko also said on that occasion: “There is a question mark here, that is, something new is beginning. The proximity of the Messiah? We think that the synagogue supports the Church. She is the true olive tree, we have been grafted on it. The Jews are the chosen people, they have the covenant, the promises, the Torah, etc…St. Paul says that God, having given everything to his people, while the goyim (the Gentiles) had nothing but sin, hatred and wars; that now he wants to take this Torah to the goyim. The Council has marked a new line in the relationship between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church, but it is necessary to carry the Council forward, because many people have not understood it, there are few who know Nostra Aetate. In this battle, in this historical situation in which we find ourselves, I think that we need to help each other, Christians and Jews, to deeply tighten our bonds to do the will of God, to save and redeem this society.”
In 2017, the rabbis asked to meet at the Domus and hundreds of them signed this official declaration: “After nearly two millennia of mutual hostility and alienation, we Orthodox rabbis who lead communities, institutions and seminaries in Israel, the US and in Europe, we recognize the historic opportunity that we have before us…we recognize that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the desired divine outcome and a gift to the nations…We are no longer enemies, but partners for the survival and welfare of humanity…Jews and Christians are destined by the Lord to be loving partners.”
It is this story of the mutual rediscovery between these two representatives of the two peoples of the two covenants, which today is recognized with this honorary doctorate (Honoris Causa).