Today the Pope received in audience a delegation of the Jewish Community of Rome, on the occasion of the 70thanniversary of the deportation of Jews of Rome (October 16, 1943). Here is a ZENIT translation of the Pope’s address to those present.
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Dear Friends of the Jewish Community of Rome,
I am happy to receive you and thus to have the possibility to deepen and lengthen the first meeting I had with some of your representatives last March 20. I greet all with affection, in particular the Chief Rabbi, Doctor Riccardo Di Segni, whom I thank for the words he addressed to me. Also for that remembrance of the courage of our Father Abraham when he struggled with the Lord to save Sodom and Gomorrah: “and if there were thirty, and if there were twenty-five and if there were twenty …” It is in fact a courageous prayer before the Lord. Thank you. I also greet the President of the Jewish Community of Rome, Doctor Riccardo Pacifici, and the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Doctor Renzo Gattegna.
As Bishop of Rome, I feel particularly close the life of the Jewish Community of the city: I know that with more than two thousand years of uninterrupted presence, it can boast of being the oldest of Western Europe. For many centuries, therefore, the Jewish Community and the Church of Rome have coexisted in this our city, with a history – we are well aware – which was often suffused with incomprehensions and also of genuine injustices. However, it is a history that, with God’s help, has known for many decades now the development of friendly and fraternal relations.
Contributing certainly to this change of mentality on the Catholic side was the reflection of Vatican Council II, but no less a contribution came from the life and action by both parts, of wise and generous men, able to recognize the Lord’s call and to undertake courageously new paths of encounter and dialogue.
Paradoxically, the common tragedy of the War has taught us to walk together. In a few days we will observe the 70thanniversary of the deportation of the Jews of Rome. We will remember and pray for the many innocent victims of human barbarismfor their families. It will also be an occasion to keep our attention always vigilant, so that forms of intolerance and anti-Semitism will never come alive again under any pretext in Rome or in the rest of the world. I’ve said it at other times and I’m pleased to repeat it now: it’s a contradiction for a Christian to be anti-Semitic. His roots are to a degree Jewish. A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic! May anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman!
The anniversary will also enable us to remember how in the hour of darkness the Christian community of this city was able to extend a hand to brothers in difficulty. We know how many religious institutes, monasteries and the Papal Basilicas themselves, responding to the will of the Pope, opened their doors for a fraternal welcome, and how many ordinary Christians offered the help they could give, little or great as it was. The great majority, it’s true, were not aware of the need to update Christian understanding of Judaism and perhaps they knew very little of the life of the Jewish community itself. However, they had the courage to do the right thing at that moment: to protect brothers who were in danger. I like to stress this aspect because, if it is true that it is important to deepen theological reflection through dialogue on the part of both sides, it is also true that there is a lived dialogue, that of daily experience, which is no less fundamental. What is more, without this, without a true and concrete culture of encounter, which leads to genuine relations, without prejudices and suspicions, of little use would be the commitment in the intellectual field. Here also, as I often like to underline, the People of God has its own scent and intuits the path that God is asking it to follow, in this case, the path of friendship, of closeness, of fraternity.
As Bishop of Rome, I hope to contribute here in Rome to this closeness and friendship, just as I had the grace to do – because it was a grace – with the Jewish community of Buenos Aires. Among the many things that can be shared is witness to the truth of the Ten Words, of the Decalogue, as solid foundation and source of life also for our society, so disoriented by an extreme pluralism of choices and orientations, and marked by a relativism that leads to having no longer solid and sure points of reference (cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Synagogue of Rome, January 17, 2010, 5-6).
Dear friends, I thank you for your visit and invoke with you the protection and blessing of the Most High for this, our common path of friendship and trust. In His benevolence, may He grant His peace to our days. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]