VATICAN CITY — Christians and Jews can work together to challenge the contemporary problems of secularism and disrespect for the human person, Pope Francis told representatives of Judaism in a Vatican audience.
“Humanity needs our joint witness in favor of respect for the dignity of man and woman created in the image and likeness of God and in favor of peace, which is, above all, God’s gift,” the Bishop of Rome told members of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations June 24.
“Friendly relations are, in a way, the basis for the development of a more official dialogue,” he added.
The audience with the Jewish leaders was also attended by Cardinal Kurt Koch, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as head of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews and members of that office.
The committee has held 21 meetings with Catholics so far, and Pope Francis said this has “certainly helped to reinforce mutual understanding and the links of friendship” between them.
He welcomed their next meeting, which will be held in October in Madrid and will consider challenges to faith in contemporary society.
In his first meeting as Bishop of Rome with official representatives of Judaism, he noted the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, as the Church’s “key point of reference for relations with the Jewish people.”
“In that Council text, the Church recognizes that ‘the beginnings of its faith and election are to be found in the patriarchs, Moses and prophets,’“ he stated.
He emphasized that, “due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic,” and he pointed to the writings of St. Paul, who “firmly condemned hatred, persecution and all forms of anti-Semitism” and called the gifts and call of God “irrevocable.”
Nostra Aetate, he said, has been the basis for “greater awareness and mutual understanding” between Jews and Catholics in the past 40 years, and he reflected on the good relations he had with the Jewish community when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“I had the joy of maintaining relations of sincere friendship with leaders of the Jewish world,” Pope Francis remarked. “We talked often of our respective religious identities, the image of man found in the Scriptures, and how to keep an awareness of God alive in a world now secularized in many ways.”
While head of the Church in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis even authored a book of dialogues between him and Abraham Skorka, an Argentine rabbi. On Heaven and Earth was written in Spanish, and it was recently translated and published in English.
Pope Francis told the members of the International Jewish Committee that he met with Argentine Jews on various occasions to discuss the challenges which Jews and Christians both face.
“But, above all, as friends, we enjoyed each other’s company,” he said. “We were all enriched through the encounter and dialogue, and we welcomed each other, and this helped all of us grow as people and as believers.”
The Holy Father added: “I encourage you to follow this path, trying, as you do so, to involve younger generations.”