It was the fall of 1997, and a small group of three Messianic Jews, one Catholic charismatic Priest theologian, a Catholic Archdeacon of Vienna, and one Episcopal Anglican clergyman/rector met with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He would not long after become Pope Benedict XVI.
The six of us were a committee representing Toward Jerusalem Council II. (See the web site for information on this effort.) We were given this opportunity due to the recommendation of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna. A few months earlier in the Spring, we had dinner in his palace in Vienna next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The Cardinal was the primary editor of the New Catholic Catechism and a student of Joseph Ratzinger. He was very moved by our meeting and therefore recommended us. Our mission was to see repentance in the Church and to see a full embrace of the Messianic Jewish community.
Cardinal Ratzinger was the leader of the College of the Doctrine of the Faith, the body that puts out statements and larger documents to foster Catholic doctrinal unity. His position was one of the highest in the Church. His reputation was that of a rigid man enforcing rigid orthodoxy. Of course, this is the spin of a more liberal press. We found this not to be true. Yet we entered with great concern to be circumspect. We expected 30 minutes but were given an hour. We met in the very room where the members of the College meet, a conference setting. We were told by Father Peter Hocken to not mention anything about our connection to Free Churches (those not from the historical state Churches, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox). We who were Jewish were just to present ourselves as Messianic Jews and as part of the Messianic Jewish congregational movement.
Cardinal Ratzinger entered the room and greeted us warmly. He then asked us to present our purpose. We had our plan. Rabbi Marty Waldman would present his story as the child of Holocaust survivors. Then he would present something of the movement. I would present the theology of the movement. David, our prophetic brother, would add anything as he was led by the Spirit. Fr. Peter and Canon Brian would add their words of understanding and commitment to the vision. We later followed this same pattern in meetings for many years until today.
Our meeting lasted almost an hour. We said noting of the Free Churches. We were taken very seriously. After answering some of his questions, the Cardinal said to us, “If you people are who you say you are, the second coming of Jesus is nearer than we have thought.” He knew Romans 11 and saw Jews turning to the Lord while remaining Jews as an eschatological sign.
After this, he asked to caucus with the two Catholics. First, he already knew of our connection to Evangelicals. He had his source of information, but this did not bother him. He remarked to the Catholics, that it was not a surprise that we had this relationship since the Free Churches (Evangelicals) where more flexible and open.
He then said he was going to appoint Cardinal Schonborn to be the liaison to the Messianic Jews. He would get the Pope John Paul II to support this. This was amazing.
We also met with Cardinal George Cottier, the Pope’s Theologian, who vets what is given to the Pope and reads all the Pope wants to put out. He was really with us and started a Catholic-Messianic Jewish dialogue where all came to great accord. The dialogue lasted for 14 years and is today is at a new level. Cardinal Cottier would report to Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II. When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he continued in his support for the Messianic Jewish community and the dialogue. There is much more that can be written. He was a serous theologian whose book on Yeshua is very good. My connection to believing Catholics, who really love Yeshua, does not mean that I am not troubled by some Catholic doctrines, but I am so grateful for the opportunities that were opened to us by Pope Benedict. The memory of our meeting will forever be dear to me.