Remarks of Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago
Warm greetings to you as you gather for Shabbat services this morning. Thank you to Rabbi Michael Siegel, Executive Director Mimi Weisberg, and the staff of Anshe Emet for such a gracious welcome.
It may be a bit of an understatement to say that it is unusual to have a Catholic bishop speaking as part of your weekly shabbat service. Then again, these are not normal times.
As I needed to be in Rome for the Synod for most of October, it grieved me to be away from Chicago during these exceedingly difficult days for your community, with whom I feel so close. I am so grateful to be with you today to personally assure you of my ongoing support for the members of this synagogue and the entire Jewish community of Greater Chicago.
The brutal attack of Hamas militants which desecrated and took the lives of more than 1000 Israelis, along with the kidnapping of 250 hostages on October 7 has, as you know too well, left Jews in Israel, Chicago, and throughout the world in a deep state of shock and mourning. Through personal conversations, I have learned the depth of the Jewish community’s trauma and I extend my deep condolences to all of you. While some in our area view this as an event occurring half a world away, I know, as much as I can, how deeply personal this attack was for you.
I had the sacred privilege of accompanying my friend, the late Fritzie Fritzshall, who served so well as president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum, in bearing witness to the Holocaust in a pilgrimage of memory to Auschwitz a few years ago. I could not take away her pain, but I could accompany her, as I hope to do with you today and in the coming days.
On that visit, I learned from her testimony and courageous witness that we must tell the story of the Holocaust so that it never is repeated. There is deep pain and trauma that goes with this retelling, but we know what happens when antisemitism is unopposed publicly. When allowed to run rampant, antisemitism infects our communities and nations with fear and hatred. Hatred of Jews must never be allowed to be normalized.
Since the attack of October 7, countries around the world have reported a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents. According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic hate crimes in the United States have increased by nearly 400%, year over year. Some college campuses, places long considered bastions of dialogue and learning, have even seen notable increases in antisemitic rhetoric and hate-speech. Many Jewish college students and faculty are thinking of leaving campus or hiding obvious signs that they are Jewish. We must be concerned when a generation of Jews is being formed amid a deep fear of even acknowledging their identity in public. Catholics and all people of good will cannot be simply quietly concerned by this reality. No, we must speak against such bigotry and hate.
As a Catholic Christian, it is my duty to denounce antisemitism. As Pope Francis reminds us, one cannot be a good Catholic and an antisemite. Catholics must respond to antisemitism swiftly and decisively, especially in the aftermath of the deadliest day in Jewish history since the end of the Shoah. I exhort my Catholic brothers and sisters and all people of good will to speak out against antisemitic acts and speech when confronted with them. It is quite literally a matter of life and death.
I join Pope Francis in affirming the fundamental right of Jews to a Jewish State in their historical homeland. The national aspirations of the Palestinian people are also legitimate and to be pursued. Yet I also cannot turn away from the profound human suffering of civilians, especially the children, even newborns, both in Israel and Gaza. These casualties are not just numbers flashed across the screen on nightly television. These casualties include friends, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, fellow humans beloved and given life through the gift of the one God. At Pope Francis’ urging, Catholics continue to pray and fast for a cessation of violence in Gaza and Israel, and other parts of our war-torn world. I also share the Holy Father’s call that we all must be on the side of peace.
Likewise this week, he visited with the European Rabbis and stated: “The spread of antisemitic demonstrations, which I strongly condemn, is also of great concern.” He continued: “In this time in which we are witnessing violence and destruction, we believers are called to build fraternity and open paths of reconciliation for all and before all, in the name of the Almighty who, as [the] prophet [Jeremiah] says, has ‘plans for welfare and not for evil’ (Jer 29:11). Not weapons, not terrorism, not war, but compassion, justice and dialogue are the fitting means for building peace.”
It is hard to conceive of peace in such dark times. Yet peace is God’s promise to his family. We are all children of God. We will never see peace without an authentic dialogue premised on the inherent dignity of all human beings. Until such recognition takes place, the cycle of violence will continue. I fervently pray for this mutual recognition, grounded in the image of God emblazoned by the divine on all our sisters and brothers.
Supporting that prayer, may we commit to doing our part here in Chicago to encounter one another as brothers and sisters, made in God’s image. Through this encounter, we can begin to see new possibilities for upholding our shared dignity and thereby reduce the fear that fuels the fires of antisemitism, islamophobia, and all other forms of religiously-based hate. Through this encounter, we can begin to break down the barriers that separate us from one another due to political affiliation, skin color, and religious affiliation. Through this encounter, we can assist in bringing about a new way of relating in a world desperately in need of healing.
I again thank you for your hospitality this morning and for the invitation to address you during your sacred time at prayer. Know that I am with you.
I understand that you celebrated today the Bat Mitzvah of a young lady named Stella. Congratulations Stella. I am here for you and all of young people your age, to let you know that none of you should ever be afraid or ashamed to be Jewish. You can count on me to stand with you.
May the good and gracious God who has called you here this morning bring you comfort in your sorrow and solace in your time of pain. Peace be with you all.