By DEXTER DUGGAN
Although newly declared St. John XXIII had only one miracle rather than the customary two attributed to him as the case for his canonization was compiled, there was a second miracle by this Pope who called for the Second Vatican Council to convene, a San Francisco author and radio personality contends.
“That miracle was his decision to completely reframe the relationship between Catholics and Jews,” John Rothmann writes in the April issue of Robert Moynihan’s Inside the Vatican magazine (insidethevatican.com). The article is titled, “An Incomparable Pope – John XXIII and the Jews.”
“Called ‘the good pope’,” Rothmann’s article continues, “the relationship between John and the Jews is an incredible story of the triumph of truth and justice that needs to be told and remembered.”
Rothmann, chief political analyst at KKSF (910 AM) in San Francisco, explores in detail two greatly significant times in the life of the Pope born Angelo Roncalli, in 1881, and the Jewish people.
The first was when Roncalli as a Catholic prelate repeatedly saved Jews from being sent off for extermination by Germany’s National Socialist government under Adolf Hitler. The second was his approach as Pope to recasting Catholic attitudes toward them.
“He understood that a good Catholic could never hate the Jews. Jesus was a Jew. It was very logical to him,” Rothmann told The Wanderer during a 40-minute telephone interview on April 22, a few days before the April 27 scheduled canonizations of two Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, on Divine Mercy Sunday in Rome.
Within the lifetimes of many people still on Earth, Rothmann said, Jews had been regarded as responsible for Christ’s death. But John XXIII “wanted to make sure” that attitude was changed.
Neither Christ’s Passion should be charged against all Jews nor should they be regarded as rejected by God or accursed, John XXIII wanted the Church to convey, Rothmann said.
This was a summation as it affected the Jews of Nostra Aetate, the declaration on non-Christian religions adopted by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
Rothmann, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, was a talk host for 16 years on that city’s KGO radio (810 AM) before he moved to KKSF in January 2012 as a political analyst. He speaks with pride of his 15,000-volume personal library specializing in political history and political biographies.
In 1933 his own father, Hans Rothmann, had been suspended then eventually dismissed from his position as a professor at a German university because he was a Jew, the radio commentator told The Wanderer.
Last year he wrote an article about a recent trip he made to Germany to commemorate 43 professors expelled from that university in Halle, Germany, during National Socialist rule.
“It was a difficult journey to undertake,” Rothmann wrote. “I was filled with conflicting emotions. As a Jew, a trip to Germany can only be described as a journey to a haunted land. It is true that a new Germany has risen from the ashes, with a population that was not alive during the years of Hitler’s Third Reich. It is also true that Germany is haunted by the memory of those not-so-distant days.”
In his work saving Jews from the Nazis, “Roncalli was a man with a great heart who, when he saw suffering, wanted to alleviate it,” Rothmann told The Wanderer, adding that the future Pope “was so moved by the suffering that he was determined to move heaven and earth to stop it.”
He recalled an occasion when Roncalli supplied Catholic baptismal certificates to save thousands of Jews slated for deportation to Auschwitz and death. The certificates actually weren’t intended to make the Jews into Catholics but only to mislead the Nazis.
Asked by The Wanderer if the certificates claimed that the bearers were converts to Catholicism, Rothmann said no. “It just said these are baptized Catholics. That’s all you had to say.”
In his April Inside the Vatican article, which also is available in a longer version at the magazine’s web site as noted above, Rothmann writes: “During the tragic years of what we now know as the Holocaust, Roncalli rose to heroic heights. It is particularly fitting that he will be proclaimed a saint on Yom Ha Shoah, the day of Holocaust remembrance established on a fixed date each year by the State of Israel.”
Rothmann told The Wanderer that Roncalli “talked about the fact that essentially the Jews were being crucified…. John [XXIII] never forgot what he witnessed during those tragic years.”
Doing research for his article, “I discovered so many wonderful, wonderful, wonderful stories that most people have never heard,” Rothmann said, adding later, “It was an honor for me to be able to write this story.”
He said, “I was profoundly moved when [John XXIII] greeted a group of visiting Jews, ‘I am Joseph, your brother’” — a biblical reference to when long-lost Joseph in Egypt is reunited with his siblings, all of them sons of Jacob.
John XXIII had been exploring granting Vatican diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel before he died in 1963 — a move that some leading rabbis said would have thrilled Jews around the world, the article says.
His death shelved that hope for three decades, until Vatican recognition finally was granted in 1993. “I am convinced that had he lived longer, the Vatican would have recognized Israel sooner,” Rothmann told The Wanderer.
The Inside the Vatican article says that a rabbi of the Pope’s time, Arthur Gilbert, “summed up the unprecedented outpouring of affection of Jews for Pope John, saying, ‘Certainly no pope had communicated as clear and consistent an attitude of friendship toward the Jewish people and Judaism in all of history as Pope John XXIII’.”
Rothmann said he didn’t want his article put before the public in a Jewish publication but in a Catholic publication, and he was directed toward Moynihan’s Inside the Vatican.
“Moynihan loved the article and he agreed immediately to publish it,” Rothmann said. “. . . Robert Moynihan has been tremendous. He has been so supportive.”