On Sunday January 17, Pope Francis visited the primary synagogue in Rome for the first time during his tenure. He became the third consecutive pope to visit the synagogue, following in the footsteps of his predecessors St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
While at the synagogue, Pope Francis began by thanking the Jewish community that invited him, saying that, “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.” In his introductory remarks, he also added that during his time in Argentina he had formed a special relationship with the Jewish community there, one that he described as “a spiritual bond, which has favored the birth of an authentic rapport of friendship and has inspired a common commitment.”
The pope then reminded the community that the Catholic Church recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a document written during Vatican II on the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions. He said that the document “made possible systematic dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism” as well as “defined theologically for the first time, in an explicit manner, the relation of the Catholic Church to Judaism.” He pointed out that the dialogue begun through the document is what made his trip to the synagogue possible.
Once he concluded his remarks on the relationship between Catholicism and Judaism, Pope Francis shifted to discuss the struggles that Jews and Christians alike face today and what can be done to combat these struggles. He appealed to both communities to end terrorism and violence, saying “Conflicts, wars, violence, and injustices open deep wounds in humanity and call us to strengthen the commitment toward peace and justice.” He then added, “The violence of man against man is in contradiction with any religion worthy of this name, and in particular with the three great monotheistic religions.” It is of note that there was also a Muslim delegation in attendance at the synagogue.
In talking about the horrors of mass violence and terrorism the pope harkened back to the Holocaust, or Shoah in Hebrew. He spoke about how it was the mission of all Jews and all Christians to avoid letting such a tragedy ever happen again and that the best way to do this was through a collaborative effort by both communities to end mass violence. “Life is sacred, a gift from God. The Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue says, ‘Do not kill,’” he observed. “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.”
This visit, while very ceremonial in nature, still gave the pope a platform to speak to the Jewish community about the issues of peace and unity that he has long been advocating for. While the impact of his messages still remains to be seen, the Pope remains dedicated to advocating for an end to terrorism and mass violence in any way that he can.