In his first visit to Rome’s synagogue, Pope Francis mentioned the fruits of 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Jews in the wake of Nostra Aetate: “’yes’ to rediscovering Christianity’s Jewish roots; ‘no’ to every form of anti-Semitism”. In his address, the pontiff called for Catholic-Jewish collaboration on "integral ecology,” justice and peace, and defence of life as "a gift of God". Ruth Dureghello, president of Rome's Jewish community, Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), and Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome, spoke at the meeting, calling for an alliance against terrorism.
Rome (AsiaNews) – This Sunday Pope Francis visited Rome's Great Synagogue (Italian: Tempio Maggiore di Roma) where he was welcomed by prominent Jewish leaders from the city and Europe.
During his stay, the pontiff stressed that Catholics and Jews are "brothers and sisters" based on “ a unique and special bond thanks to the Jewish roots of Christianity.” This has led an intense theological dialogue between the two communities, which started 50 years ago after the Second Vatican Council, which continues with cooperation on an "integral ecology" to "care for creation" and on the defence of life as "a gift of God" against the "violence of man against man."
The pontiff arrived at the synagogue’s front entrance at around 4 pm where he was met by Jewish community leaders: Ruth Dureghello, president of Rome's Jewish community, Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), and Mario Venezia, president of the Holocaust Museum Foundation.
Before entering the building, he laid flowers in front of two plaques: one commemorates the deportation of Roman Jews in 1943, and the other is dedicated to Stefano Gaj Taché, a small child who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist commando in 1982.
After a moment of silence, the pope greeted the family and survivors of the terrorist act, then went inside the temple, accompanied by the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni.
The pope moved forward slowly, shaking hands with those lined up on the two wings of a narrow corridor. The atmosphere was very friendly. Some women hugged him and kissed him.
One of the survivors of the 1982 Palestinian terrorist attack said, "You are very nice and we all love you,” adding, "Since you are a rebuilder, why don’t you reintroduce the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, like it was when I was a child?". The elderly Jew was referring to the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus on 1 January, which was replaced by the solemnity of Mary Mother of God after the Second Vatican Council.
In the crowded Temple, Ruth Dureghello spoke first. After mentioning the visits by John Paul II (1986) and Benedict XVI (2010), the president of Rome's Jewish community called for greater collaboration between Jews and Catholics, because "religions should claim a place in society to participate in solving problems . . . and fight the evils of our time."
She also called for fighting anti-Semitism even when it hides behind a "deliberate attack against [the State of] Israel”. Listing a series of terrorist acts against Jews in Israel, like the knife Intifada and rockets from Gaza, she expressed nevertheless hope “that Muslims, often themselves victims of terrorism,” may participate in the "regeneration of the world under the rule of the Almighty."
Renzo Gattegna also spoke about the common threats that weigh on "Christians and Jews . . . forced to defend themselves against common enemies who use God’s name to carry out crimes against humanity". He also suggested "a strong coalition based on respect for life and peace".
Riccardo Di Segni first mentioned that the Jubilee, which Pope Francis announced for this year, has Jewish roots and that its aim is to "rebuild society on the basis of justice, dignity, and mercy. This is a common heritage that we consider holy."
After suggesting that papal visit could become a "tradition", he expressed concern for "the needs of the times". in his view, "The Near East and Europe are troubled by terrorism. After two centuries of violence based on nationalism and racism, now violence is inspired by religion and leads to the persecution of religious communities. This meeting is a bulwark against the invasion and subjugation by such violence."
As he began his address, Pope Francis thanked his hosts. In Hebrew, he said, “Thank you! Todá rabá, thank you!”
Although this was his first visit to Rome’s Jewish community, the pontiff noted that when he was in Buenos Aires he used to go to synagogues. Thus, as the chief rabbi probably hoped, this visit represents continuity. Indeed, “Our relations are very close to my heart,” Francis said.
Speaking about the importance of the Catholic-Jewish relationship, Francis noted that “In interreligious dialogue it is essential that we meet as brothers and sisters before our Creator and to Him give praise, that we respect and appreciate each other and try to collaborate. In Jewish-Christian dialogue there is a unique and special bond thanks to the Jewish roots of Christianity: Jews and Christians must therefore feel as brothers, united by the same God and by a rich common spiritual patrimony (cf. Declaration. Nostra Aetate, 4), upon which to build the future.
Focusing on the results of Nostra Aetate, the Holy Father noted that the declaration 50 years ago “indicated the way” for the relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism by “rediscovering Christianity’s Jewish roots”. This means “‘no’ to every form of anti-Semitism and blame for every wrong, discrimination and persecution deriving from it.” His hosts responded with a resounding applause.
The pope went further, saying that “Christians, to be able to understand themselves, cannot not refer to their Jewish roots, and the Church, while professing salvation through faith in Christ, recognizes the irrevocability of the Covenant and God’s constant and faithful love for Israel .
In addition to the fight against terrorism, the pontiff especially hopes to see Catholics and Jews work together to promote “integral ecology” which “is now a priority”. As “Christians and Jews [we] can and must offer humanity the message of the Bible regarding the care of creation. Conflicts, wars, violence and injustices open deep wounds in humanity and call us to strengthen a commitment for peace and justice.” Indeed, “Violence by man against man is in contradiction with any religion worthy of that name, and in particular with the three great monotheistic religions. Life is sacred, a gift of God.
Turning to the Scriptures, the pontiff stressed that “The fifth commandment of the Decalogue says: ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (Exodus 20:13). God is the God of life, and always wants to promote and defend it; and we, created in his image and likeness, are called upon to do the same. Every human being, as a creature of God, is our brother, regardless of his or her origin or religious affiliation. Each person must be viewed with favour, just as God does, who offers his merciful hand to all, regardless of their faith and of their belonging, and who cares for those who most need him: the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the helpless. Where life is in danger, we are called even more to protect it.
“Neither violence nor death will have the last word before God, the God of love and life. We must pray with insistence to help us put into practice the logic of peace, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of life, in Europe, in the Holy Land, in the Middle East, in Africa and elsewhere in the world.”
Finally, the pope turned to holocaust survivors, saying that “their suffering, their fear, their tears must never be forgotten. And the past must serve as a lesson for the present and for the future.”