This afternoon, Pope Francis went to Rome’s Synagogue and received a standing ovation at the end of his remarks, which reaffirmed that Anti-Semitism is always unacceptable and how Catholics and Jews are ultimately one family.
Addressing the Jews before him as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters,’ he noted how happy he was to be with them in this synagogue and thanked them for the warm welcome. “Toda Rabba, thanks!” he said.
Noting that this marks his first visit to this synagogue as Bishop of Rome, he noted his wish to express to those gathered, as well as to all Jewish communities, the fraternal greetings of peace of this church and the whole Catholic Church.
The Pope noted how Jewish-Catholic relations are very close to his heart. “Already in Buenos Aires, I used to go in the synagogues and meet the community gathered there, closely following the Jewish festivals and commemorations and giving thanks to the Lord who gives us life and accompanies us on the path of history.”
Our dialogue is a special bond
The Jewish-Christian dialogue, the Pope stressed, is a unique and special bond, by virtue of the Jewish roots of Christianity, Jews and Christians must therefore feel brothers, united by the same God and a rich, common spiritual patrimony, as Nostra Aetate states, and this is something on which we must build and continue to build.
The Pontiff stressed that his visit follows in the footsteps of my Predecessors, for Pope John Paul II came here 30 years ago, on April 13, 1986; and Pope Benedict XVI visited them six years ago. “Pope John Paul II, on that occasion, coined the beautiful expression ‘big brothers,’, and in fact you are our brothers and sisters in the faith,” Francis said.
“We all belong to one family, the family of God, who accompanies and protects us as his people,” he said. “Together, as Jews and as Catholics, we are called to assume our responsibility to this city, making our contribution, first of all spiritual, and encouraging the resolution of various current problems. I hope that more and more closeness, mutual understanding and respect grows between our two faith communities.”
He also noted the significance that he came among them, on Jan. 17, when the Italian Episcopal Conference celebrated the “Day of Dialogue Between Catholics and Jews.” The Pope also recalled that the 50th anniversary of the Declaration Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council was just commemorated, which made possible the systematic dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism.
Always ‘No’ to Anti-Semitism
Francis recalled on Oct. 28 in St. Peter’s Square when he was able to greet a large number of Jewish representatives, and stated: “A special thanks to God for the real transformation of the relationship between Christians and Jews that has taken place in the past 50 years. Indifference and opposition have turned into cooperation and goodwill. Enemies and strangers, we became friends and brothers. The Council, with the Declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way: “Yes” to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity; ‘No’ to any form of Anti-Semitism, and condemnation of all insults, discrimination and persecution thereon.’
For the first time, the Pope explained, Nostra Aetate defined explicitly and theologically the Catholic Church’s relations with Judaism. “Of course, it did not solve all the theological issues that affect us,” he admitted, “but we made reference encouragingly, providing an important stimulus for further necessary reflections.”
In this regard, on Dec 10, 2015, the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews published a new document that addresses the theological issues that have emerged in the decades since the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, that demonstrates a step in this direction.
Still Room for Development
The Jesuit Pope acknowledged that the theological dimension of Jewish-Catholic dialogue deserves to be more thorough, and encouraged all those involved in this dialogue to continue in this direction, with discernment and perseverance. “Just from a theological point of view, it is clear the inseparable bond between Christians and Jews. Christians, to understand themselves, can not not refer to the Jewish roots, and the Church, while professing salvation through faith in Christ, recognize the irrevocability of the Old Testament and the constant and faithful love of God for Israel.”
“Neither violence nor death will never have the last word before God,” Francis said, “Who is the God of love and life.”
Given this, Francis exhorted those gathered to pray with insistence to help us practice the logic of peace, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, and of life in Europe, the Holy Land, the Middle East, in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
Closeness to Holocaust Victims, especially those living
The Jewish people, in its history, has had to experience violence and persecution, even to the extermination of European Jews during the Holocaust. Six million people, only because they belong to the Jewish people, were victims of the most inhumane barbarities perpetrated in the name of an ideology that would replace the man to God.
On October 16, 1943, the Pontiff recalled, more than a thousand men, women and children of Rome’s Jewish community were deported to Auschwitz. “Today,” he continued, “I wish to remember in a special way: their suffering, their worries, their tears should never be forgotten.”
“Also, the past should serve as a lesson for the present and for the future. The Holocaust teaches us that we must always have utmost vigilance, to take prompt action in defense of human dignity and peace. I would like to express my closeness to each witness of the Holocaust still living; and I address a special greeting to those who are present here today.”
God has plans for us
“Dear brothers,” Pope Francis stressed, we really have to be thankful for all that has been realized in the last fifty years, because between us grew and have deepened mutual understanding, mutual trust and friendship. Let us pray together to the Lord, to lead our way to a good future, the better. God has plans of salvation for us, as the prophet Jeremiah recalls: ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ – declares the Lord -‘plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'”
Pope Francis concluded, praying, “May the Lord bless us and protect us. Make his face shine upon us and grant us his grace. Look upon us his face and grant us peace (cf. 6.24 to 26 Nm). Shalom Alechem!”
After the exchange of gifts, the Pope concluded his visit to Rome’s synagogue and had a private meeting with Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni.