ROME — Speaking Sunday at the major synagogue of Rome, Pope Francis called on Jews and Christians to counter the conflict, war, violence and injustice that open deep wounds in humanity.
These call us “to strengthen our commitment for peace and justice,” he said Jan. 17. “The violence of man toward man is in contradiction with every religion worthy of this name, and in particular with the great monotheistic religions.”
“The past must serve as a lesson for us in the present and into the future,” he said, recalling the tragedy of the Shoah (Holocaust).
Pope Francis began his speech thanking those who had greeted him and stating: “During my first visit to this synagogue as Bishop of Rome, I wish to express to you, and to the whole Jewish community, the fraternal greetings of peace of this Church and of the entire Catholic Church.”
He noted his personal connection with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, which he visited frequently. This created “a spiritual bond, which has favored the birth of an authentic rapport of friendship and has inspired a common commitment.”
“In interreligious dialogue, it is fundamental that we encounter each other as brothers and sisters before our Creator and that we praise him; and that we respect and appreciate each other and try to collaborate.”
He remarked that in Jewish-Christian dialogue there is “a unique and particular bond, in virtue of the Jewish roots of Christianity: Jews and Christians must, therefore, considers themselves brothers, united in their God and a rich common spiritual patrimony, on which to build on and to continue building the future.”
Pope Francis recalled that his visit to Rome’s great synagogue follows those of his immediate predecessors: St. John Paul II in 1986 and Benedict XVI in 2010. He referred to St. John Paul II’s reference to the Jewish people as the “elder brothers” of Christians and said that “we all belong to one family, the family of God, who accompanies and protects us as his people. Together, as Jews and as Catholics, we are called to assume our responsibility for this city, making our contribution, first of all spiritual, and favoring the resolution of our diverse problems. I hope that the closeness, mutual understanding and respect between our two communities of faith always continue to increase.”
The Pope then noted that the Church has just observed the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions. That document, he said, “made possible systematic dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism” and “defined theologically for the first time, in an explicit manner, the relation of the Catholic Church to Judaism.”
Nostra Aetate provided an important stimulus for further necessary reflection, he noted. He added that “the theological dimension of Jewish-Catholic dialogue merits a greater profundity, and I wish to encourage all those involved in this dialogue to continue in this direction.”
The “inseparable bond which unites Christians and Jews” is theologically clear, he added. “Christians, to understand themselves, cannot fail to refer to their Jewish roots, and the Church, while professing salvation through faith in Christ, recognizes the irrevocability of the Old Covenant and the constant and faithful love of God for Israel.”
Turning from questions of theology to the challenges facing the world today, Pope Francis spoke first of the importance of integral ecology and the importance of both religions sharing the Bible’s vision for stewardship of creation.
The Pope then discussed war, which “calls us to strengthen our commitment for peace and justice.”
“The violence of man toward man is in contradiction with every religion worthy of this name, and in particular with the great monotheistic religions.”
Pope Francis said, “Life is sacred, a gift from God. The Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue says, ‘Do not kill.’ God is the God of life and always seeks to promote and defend it; and we, created in his image and likeness, are required to do the same.”
“Every human being, as a creature of God, is our brother, independent of his origin or religious practice,” he said, recalling that God “extends his merciful hand to all, independent of their faith and their origin,” and “cares for those who need him the most: the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the defenseless.”
“We must pray to him insistently so that he helps us to practice in Europe, in the Holy Land, in the Middle East, in Africa, and in every other part of the world, the logic of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and life.”
He recalled with sorrow the Jewish experience of the Shoah, in which 6 million people “were victims of the most inhuman barbarities, perpetuated in the name of an ideology that wanted to substitute God with man.”
Pope Francis remembered in a particular way the thousands of Roman Jews who were deported to Auschwitz in October 1943, saying, “Their sufferings, their anguish, their tears must never be forgotten.”
“And the past must serve as a lesson for us in the present and into the future. The Shoah teaches us to always have the highest vigilance, in order to be able to intervene forcefully in defense of human dignity and peace.”
He concluded, addressing the assembly as elder brothers in thanksgiving for the advances in Jewish-Catholic relations in the past 50 years: “We pray together to the Lord, so that he directs our path toward a good, better future.”
“God has a project of salvation for us, as he tells the prophet Jeremiah [29:11]: ‘I know the plans I have for you: plans of peace and not destruction, so that you enjoy a future full of hope.’ May the Lord bless us and protect us. May he make his shine on us, and may he give us his grace. Shalom aleichem!”