Pope Francis makes his first papal visit to Rome synagogue

Holocaust ‘teaches us that we must always be vigilant’, pope tells congregation

Pope Francis arrives with chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni to Rome’s main synagogue. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis arrives with chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni to Rome’s main synagogue. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

 

Pope Francis received a warm and emotional welcome from Rome’s Jewish community on Sunday afternoon when he visited the Rome synagogue in what was once the Jewish ghetto, on the banks of the Tiber.

Francis’s visit, the third by a pope following those of John Paul II in 1986 and Benedict XVI in 2010, comes as an important gesture of inter-religious friendship and trust at a time when faith-inspired terrorism and violence makes itself felt around the world.

St John Paul II broke new ground in 1986 when, during his visit to the synagogue, he called Jews our “elder brothers”, acknowledging that the roots of Christianity are to be found in the Jewish faith.

Francis made reference to that observation by his predecessor, recalling also the recent 50th anniversary celebrations of the historic Vatican Council II document, Nostra Aetate.

That document represented a watershed moment in relations between Catholics and Jews since it definitively rejected the traditional teaching whereby the “perfidious” Jew had been held responsible for the death of Christ. His visit came in the wake of the publication last month of a new Catholic Church document, The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable, which outlined the developments of the last 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Jews.

In his address, during which he was much applauded, Francis recalled how as archbishop of Buenos Aires he had regularly visited the synagogue, attending different Jewish celebrations and encountering the Jewish community. Later this year, the pope will visit the Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz, near Krakow in Poland.

In his address, he recalled the October 1943 deportation to Auschwitz of 1,023 Roman Jews, of whom only 16 survived. The most touching moment of the ceremony came when the synagogue got to its feet to applaud some of those 16 survivors, seated in the front row of the temple.

“In particular today, I want to record those who were deported, their suffering, their fears, their tears, we must never forget them. And the past must serve as a lesson for the present and the future. The Shoah [Holocaust] teaches us that we must always be vigilant.”

Welcoming the pope, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello, said faith “does not generate hatred” or “spill blood”, rather it calls for dialogue. He added: “Our hope is that this message is heard by all those many Muslims who, along with us, share the responsibility for making this a better world.”