01/17/2010, 00.00
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The pope in Rome's synagogue: Praise the Lord for the gift of coming together

In an emotionally charged atmosphere of brotherhood, Benedict XVI met with the Jewish community of Rome. A tribute to the victims of the Shoah and terrorism. Only a slight hint of controversy about Pius XII. The urgent need to work and witness together the Ten Commandments, "a 'great code' of ethics for all humanity.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI's visit to the Jewish community of Rome was held in an atmosphere of brotherhood and emotion. In his speech before the community gathered in the synagogue, the pope emphasized that "the most authentic spiritual attitude to experience this special and happy moment of grace [is] to praise the Lord .... for granting us this opportunity to come together to strengthen the bonds which unite us. "  

In the days preceding the visit, there was strong debate within the Italian Jewish community on whether or not attend the meeting with the pope. The controversy is linked to the figure of Pius XII, for whom Benedict XVI has approved the "heroic virtues" opening the door to his beatification. For many Jews, Pacelli is accused of remaining "silent" in front of the Nazi extermination. The Vatican at the time stated that recognizing the heroic virtues of Pope does not include historical analysis on the life of Pius XII, which will only become possible with increased historical acquisitions. Because of differences in opinion, some Italian rabbis decided not to attend today's meeting with the pontiff.

This controversy was given some evidence in the speeches today, mostly in that of Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Jewish community of Rome, who, while thanking the many Catholics who helped Jews during the murder, described the silence of Pius XII as "too painful".  

Riccardo di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, was more discreet and remembering the victims of the Holocaust, said that "the silence of God" is an incomprehensible mystery", but "the silence of men" is something that must be judged.  

Benedict XVI’s speech did not give way to controversy, he spoke of "many remained indifferent, but many, including Italian Catholics, sustained by their faith and by Christian teaching, reacted with courage, often at risk of their lives, opening their arms to assist the Jewish fugitives who were being hunted down, and earning perennial gratitude". He added: "Even the Apostolic See itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way”. The Pope arrived around 16.30 (Rome time) in the area which once the Jewish ghetto was located and where today the synagogue stands, known as the Great Temple. First he honoured the plaque, near the Octavian Portico, that commemorates the deportation of 16 October 1943, placing a wreath in tribute to victims of the Holocaust.  

In his speech at the synagogue, the pope said that "The singular and deeply disturbing drama of the Shoah represents, as it were, the most extreme point on the path of hatred that begins when man forgets his Creator and places himself at the centre of the universe”. Recalling his visit on May 28, 2006 to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, he added: " the rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people”, and, essentially, “by wiping out this people, they intended to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that remain eternally valid”.  

Walking towards the synagogue, Benedict XVI met with the former chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, now in his nineties, who welcomed Pope John Paul II during his first visit to the synagogue in Rome on 13 April 1986. The pontiff then stopped at another plaque, which commemorates the bombing of 9 October 1982 by Palestinian terrorists, in which, Stefano Taché, a two year old Jewish child lost his life and dozens of people coming out of the temple after prayers were wounded.

In his speech, Pacifici thanked Benedict XVI as "the first bishop of Rome" to pay homage to the "victims of Palestinian terrorism".  

Inside the synagogue, filled to capacity, the meeting began with some songs accompanied by the assembly. Pacifici’s greeting was then followed by discourses from Renzo Gattegna, President of Italian Jewish Communities, and Riccardo di Segni.  

Pacifici retraced the achievements and growth of the Jewish community in Rome from 1870 until today; he recalled the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive by Palestinian extremists; he evoked "sovereign states" (Iran), who plan the nuclear destruction of the State of Israel; the need to combat terrorism; for dialogue between Jews, Christians and moderate Muslims, turning to several Muslim leaders present in the synagogue.  

The chief rabbi, citing examples from the Bible about how to be brothers (Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers ....) pondered how to approach and plan brotherhood between Jews and Christians. He also suggested a number of challenges: the common commitment to the protection of creation and the guarantee of religious freedom around the world. "This meeting - he concluded - must be an example. But friendship and brotherhood should not be exclusive and open to the relationship between Jews, Christians and Muslims. "  

Several times, the Jewish representatives cited Pope John Paul II, provoking applause from the Assembly and even a heartfelt standing ovation.


In his address, Benedict XVI wanted to first confirm "the esteem and affection that the Bishop and the Church of Rome, as will the entire Catholic Church, have for this community and Jewish communities around the world." He recalled past wounds and of anti-Semitism, to which Christians have also contributed, but also emphasized the teaching of Vatican II and openings now the active desire to create a “People of God of the New Covenant”. "May these wounds - exclaimed the pope - be healed forever."   He recalled that the "spiritual closeness and brotherhood" between Christians and Jews are found primarily in the Bible, " their most stable and lasting foundation, which constantly reminds us of our common roots, our history and the rich spiritual patrimony that we share". After this he has listed several areas where cooperation between Jews and Christians is necessary and urgent. This requires helping Christians read the Old Testament with Hebrew eyes and "the centrality of the Ten Commandments as a common ethical message of permanent value for Israel, the Church and non-believers and the whole of humanity."


By starting with the Ten Commandments as "the torch of ethics, hope and dialogue," "a 'great code' of ethics for all humanity", the pontiff has marked several prospects for working together:  


1) " Recognize the one Lord, against the temptation to construct other idols, to make golden calves the one Lord, against the temptation to build other idols to be golden calves. In our world, Benedict XVI said, "there are many who do not know God or who consider him superfluous, without relevance for their lives; hence, other new gods have been fabricated to whom man bows down. Reawakening in our society openness to the transcendent dimension, witnessing to the one God, is a precious service which Jews and Christians can offer together"  


2) protect life "to protect it against every injustice and abuse, recognizing the worth of each human person, created in the image and likeness of God." "How often  - said the pope - in every part of the world, near and far, the dignity, the freedom and the rights of human beings are trampled upon.    


3) "to preserve and to promote the sanctity of the family, in which the personal and reciprocal, faithful and definitive “Yes” of man and woman makes room for the future, for the authentic humanity of each, and makes them open, at the same time, to the gift of new life. "  


"Christians and Jews - added the pontiff - share to a great extent a common spiritual patrimony, they pray to the same Lord, they have the same roots, and yet they often remain unknown to each other."  A higher relationship between these two traditions will bring the light of God "closer to enlighten all the peoples of the earth."  


He concluded on a note of universal tone: "I beg from the Lord the precious gift of peace in the world, above all in the Holy Land. During my pilgrimage there last May, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I prayed to Him who can do all things, asking: “Send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family; stir the hearts of those who call upon your name, to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion"



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