Benedict XVI described his Visit to the Jewish Community of Rome – the most ancient Diaspora in the West – as a moment of grace. And so it truly was. It could be seen from the Pope's emotion when he honoured those deported by the Shoah and the victims of anti-Jewish terrorism.
It was demonstrated by the tears of all those who had suffered its consequences, by the pride and touching joy of elderly Roman Jews who shook hands with the Bishop of their City, by the powerful hymns sung in the Major Temple, by the presence of numerous and important representatives from Israel and from the whole of the Jewish world and by the bursts of applause that interrupted Benedict XVI's Discourse at least nine times.
Yes, the meeting was a further, important step ahead on the way that Catholics and Jews are taking together: further, because it was the umpteenth time in a very long history; important, because it was courageous and frank in stating all the difficulties.
Centuries of conflict and violence, diffidence and curiosity, meetings and friendship mark the relations between Jews and Christians. And for the past half century, they have been marked above all by the oppressive burden of the Shoah , the shadow of evil.
Preceded by controversial outbursts the Visit, on the contrary, showed the determination of the common will to tackle the open questions in the relationship between Jews and Catholics. Often, however, conflict is the result of emphases by the media. Irresponsible or exploitive, these operations lack any real foundation but have sparked risky inflammatory reactions, if only by presenting to public opinion a warped picture that is far from reality.
An emblematic example is the problem constituted by Pius XII. In fact, it is necessary to realize that even after all the available archives have been opened there will be no agreement on his attitude to the Shoah because the area of historical interpretation will also, obviously, remain open.
Nevertheless, with regard to this subject the atmosphere of reciprocal respect that was also breathed is important, while the historiographical consensus on the lucid and anguished decision of silent charity which the Pope and his Church took in the context of the Second World War is spreading and gaining ground.
Joy at the ground covered and the respect between Catholics and Jews are fundamental but do not suffice to resolve the major problems.
In fact it is necessary to go patiently and courageously ahead, seeking to understand the respective sensibilities in order not to hurt them and thereby perpetuate forms of diffidence that derive mainly from the failure to recognize them.
What unites Jews and Catholics is far more than what divides them, as President Pacifici and President Gattegna recalled and as Rabbi Di Segni and Benedict XVI emphasized: the rejection of violence and reciprocal solidarity in the face of persecution, the quest for friendship with the other religious denominations and especially with Islam, the protection of the human person and of the family and care for creation.
Above all, however, it is our common witness to the Lord in order that his light may illumine all peoples.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 20, 2020
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