Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s Director for the Department of Interreligious Affairs, described his meeting today with Pope Francis as feeling like a “family reunion.” The rabbi spoke on today’s audience with the Holy Father in a press conference held at Vatican Radio’s headquarters.
Also present were Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, and Fr. Norbert J. Hoffman, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Relations with the Jews. Twenty members of the American Jewish Committee who attended today’s audience with the Pope were at the press conference as well.
Regarding the significance of today’s meeting, Rabbi Rosen said that Judeo-Christian relations have continued to thrive since the publishing of Nostra Aetate. That Second Vatican Council document, he said, marked a turning point in the perception of Jewish people.
The rabbi remarked that although such pontiffs as John XXIII, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI had taken Judeo-Christian relations to new heights, many believed that no pope after Benedict would “understand the Jews, the significance of the Shoah, or be interested in relations with Jews.”
“There has never been a pope who has had as much intimacy, as much personal friendship, as much engagement with the Jewish community as Pope Francis,” Rabbi Rosen said.
The most important aspect of today’s meeting, he noted, was not what was said but rather what was experienced and felt in the meeting.
“That of course is the amazing power of Pope Francis, this charism that has enveloped him since he has ascended to the pontificate,” Rosen said.
“But it has a special significance in terms of the Jewish-Catholic relationship because we are not only coming to a friend but somebody who sees us as friends. And therefore, in a sense, it was a kind of family reunion. That was the feeling, it was a special family meeting.”
Despite what theological differences Jews and Catholics may share, Rosen said that this sense of seeing the Jewish people not just as the roots of Catholicism but as family has brought a unique affection and warmth that he said was “powerful”.
Shortly after the audience, Rosen said that he, alongside members of the American Jewish Committee, met with Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. While they discussed several theological differences between them, Rosen said that nevertheless those main theological points have been addressed.
While acknowledging that anti-Semitism is a problem that cannot be “fixed overnight”, Rosen said that the teachings of the Catholic Church affirm the validity of the Jewish community.
“Today, the official teaching of the Church is not only categorically opposed to anti-Semitism, but has defined it as a sin against God and man. The problems in terms of Jews as seen as rejected, that is not the teaching of the Catholic Church,” he said.
Before concluding his remarks, Rabbi Rosen reiterated Pope Francis’ final point in his address: the education of younger generations on the importance of Judeo-Christian relations. The relationship between the Jewish community and the Catholic Church in the United States, he noted, is one such example.
“Many here will tell you that [in the United States], not only are there close relationships with the Catholics, but probably the Catholic Church is seen as the closest friend of the Jewish community,” he said.
Regarding the Pope’s upcoming visit to the Holy Land, Rabbi Rosen said that although he would have wished the trip would be much longer, he was certain that the Holy Father “would do everything that has to be done.”
“Everybody is excited!” he said. “No matter how short, it is a guaranteed success. It will be received wonderfully and leave a greater hope for the future and that’s what we need in the Middle East.”
“Pope Francis’ visit”, he concluded, “will be an inspiration to the people of the Holy Land.”