Any act repeated three times becomes chazaq, an established custom. Thus, after cordially welcoming Pope Francis to the Great Synagogue of Rome, Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni used this word to characterize the third meeting of a Pontiff with the oldest community of the Jewish diaspora, that of the city where Francis is bishop. Three meetings in 30 years may seem few but in fact they mark a truly historic, complex and irreversible process of rapprochement which has not been devoid of obstacles.
An important milestone in this process occurred half a century ago, in the final weeks of Vatican ii, when the Declaration Nostra Aetate, was approved by a vast majority, thanks most especially to the patient and tenacious work of Paul vi and his closest collaborators. The text, as brief as it is important, indeed nourished new relations of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions, and in particular with the holy roots of Judaism, described long ago by Paul in his Letter to the Romans.
From that time knowledge and friendship have continued to expand. This growth came about thanks to figures such as Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff and John Paul ii, the protagonists of the first visit by a Pope to the city’s largest synagogue, whom the president of Rome’s Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello recalled. She then wished to convey a greeting to Benedict xvi, who has also played a decisive role in this rapprochement. Along with them there have been and are countless people without whom these new relations would not have been possible.
But it mustn’t stop there. Such cooperation is necessary in many situations in which the name of God is profaned and blasphemed by those who use it as a pretext to kill. It is especially required by the nearly 2,000-year history of Jews and Christians because, as lucidly emphasized by Renzo Gattegna, President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, it is necessary that the awareness of all the progress made in this new relationship not be circumscribed “to religious and cultural vertices” but be widely diffused among Jews and Catholics.
The very witness of authentic friendship and the will to foster these relations were emphasized by Pope Francis. “Back in Buenos Aires”, he said, “I used to go to the synagogues and meet with the communities gathered there. I would follow the Jewish feasts and commemorations and give thanks to the Lord, who gives us life and who accompanies us over the course of history”. Pope Bergoglio then expanded on the well-known phrase used by John Paul ii: “you are our elder brothers and sisters in the faith. We all belong to a single family, the family of God, who accompanies us and protects us as his people”.
For this reason, the Pope said, the document for the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate emphasized “the inseparable bond that unites Christians and Jews”, 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”. The Pontiff concluded by inviting a common prayer that the Lord “guide our journey toward a good future”.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 25, 2020
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