Dialogika Resources

Addresses by Jewish Leaders to Pope Francis at Rome Synagogue

 [From the website of Pagine Ebraiche; in order of their remarks. A video of the proceedings is available at Radio Vatican.]


“Together, We Are Writing History” by Ruth Dureghello, President of the Jewish Community of Rome

With the permission of Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Shemuel Di Segni, and of the Masters,

I would like to welcome the religious, civilian and military authorities present here, the representatives of the state of Israeli and all of you.

I feel moved to welcome Pope Francis on behalf of the whole Jewish community of Rome, the third Pope to cross the threshold of our Great Synagogue, whose short distance from St. Peter’s has seemed almost impossible to travel for centuries. Today’s meeting shows that the dialogue between great religions is possible. It is a pledge to be open to others and to promote peace and freedom for each human being. This shared commitment became a reality for the first time on April 13, 1986 with the Pope’s historical visit to this Synagogue.

We are here today thanks to two great champions of our time and especially to their courage: John Paul II and Elio Toaff zl. May their memory be a blessing for all of us.

This historical event occurred again on January 17, 2010, thus giving continuity to the friendly relationships between the two banks of the Tiber. This is the reason why I want to extend my warmest greetings to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Today we are again writing history.

It would have been difficult to imagine having this kind of meeting more than fifty years ago. Vatican Council II, launched by John XXIII, conceived Nostra Aetate, thus paving the way to a new path based on dialogue. Fifty years later, this path is still open also thanks to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Your visit is not in the sign of ritualism. It is an important landmark at a very sensitive time for religions, which have to claim their space in the public discussion so as to provide their contribution to the moral and civic growth of society.

I feel I can say that the Jews and the Catholics, starting from Rome, must find together shared solutions to fight against the evils of our time. We have the responsibility to make the world in which we live a better place for our children.

As we know, Rome has a universal role. The Jews have been here for over 22 centuries.

Our Community has written an extraordinary story of identity survival notwithstanding discriminations and persecutions. It is a lively, active and complex community.

Today there are many expressions of Roman, Italian and international Judaism in this Synagogue, the symbol of the political emancipation of our Community after almost 400 years of segregation.

Jewish institutions have ancient roots and sound traditions and they represent highly committed of Jewish people who have provided support and care for the needy, the sick and the elderly over the centuries and, in particular, for the education of their children and for the new generations. In most cases, these people are volunteers who work every day behind the scenes, with or without official roles, so as to keep alive this Community, which is the greatest source of pride for me and for the whole city.

You, Pope Francis, have always been a friend of the Jewish world. You have taken with you from Argentina a sound relationship with the Jewish people, which you have strengthened since the beginning of your mandate. I want to recall two moments in which I felt particularly touched by your words. The first was during the visit of a delegation from this Community to the Vatican on October 11 2013, to which I had the honor to participate. You addressed our chief Rabbi stating “a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic. Let anti-Semitism be banned from the heart and the life of each man and woman”. The second was during the meeting You had a few weeks ago with the President of the World Jewish Congress, when you said that “attacking the Jews is anti-Semitism, but also a deliberate attack against Israel is anti-Semitism”. I want to reiterate this concept because this Community, like all the Jewish communities around the world, have an identity relationship with Israel. We are Italian and we are very proud of being Italian but, at the same time, we are part of the People of Israel.

It is through Your words that I repeat with determination that anti-Zionism is the most modern form of anti-Semitism.

Your trip to Israel and to its capital Jerusalem was a very important event for us. On that occasion too, You used words of profound respect for the Jewish State, hoping that it will be able to live in peace and security.

In order to make this dream come true, we have to remember that peace cannot be conquered through stabbing and terror. It cannot be achieved through bloodshed in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ytamar, Beth Shemesh and Sderot. It cannot be obtained by digging tunnels nor by launching missiles. Can we work on the peace process by counting the number of victims of terrorism? No, we can’t. We must all call for a stop to terrorism. Not only the terrorism in Madrid, London, Brussels and Paris, but also the daily terrorist attacks in Israel. Terrorism is never justified.

The hatred lesson which brings with it is far too evident. This is the lesson that comes from recent and less recent history. You saw its effects with your eyes in Buenos Aires with the anti-Semitic terrorist attack on July 18, 1994, which claimed 85 lives and wounded over 200 people.

Many wonder if Islamic terrorism is going to ever hit Rome. Ladies and gentlemen, Rome was already hit. Just one name: Stefano Gaj Taché z.l, two years of age, on October 9 1982, who was killed by a commando of Palestinian terrorists. I would like to thank the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, for his tribute to the memory of little Stefano during his swear-in speech before Parliament and President Giorgio Napolitano for having included him among the Italian victims of terrorism.

The hatred that comes from racism and bias or worse which uses God’s name or words to kill deserves our contempt and our firm condemnation.

Pope Francis, today we have a great responsibility vis-a-vis the world for the blood shed by terrorists in Europe and in the Middle East, for the blood of persecuted Christians and for the attacks against unarmed civilians even within the Arab world, for the heinous crimes against women. We cannot sit and look. We cannot remain indifferent. We cannot make the same mistakes of the past, when we remained silent and turned our backs. Men and women who did not do anything when train wagons stuffed with Jewish people were sent to the crematoriums. Here are in the first row our survivors of the Shoah, who remind us that Memory is not a self-comforting exercise to repair the horrors of the past. The memory of the greatest genocide in the history of mankind is kept alive so that nothing similar will happen again. This is our major commitment for the future and for the new generations.

On the occasion of this visit, today the Jews and the Catholics convey a new message with respect to the tragedies that have made the news in the last few months.

Faith does not generate hatred. Faith does not shed blood, faith calls for dialogue.

Coexistence should be based on openness towards the others, on peace and freedom, where it is possible to learn the respect for each other’s identity. As we do today here in Rome and in any other place.

We are sure that this awareness, which does not only belong to our religion, will find a collaborative attitude in the world of Islam. Our hope is that this message will reach the many Muslim people who share with us the responsibility to improve the world in which we live. We can make it together.

Shalom Pope Francis, Shalom to all of you.

“The Importance of Symbolic Gestures” by Renzo Gattegna, President, Union of Italian Jewish Communities

Dear Pope Francis,

It is with a spirit of profound respect that, on behalf of all the Italian Jewish Communities, I offer you our warmest welcome.

I am aware that you have come to this Temple to meet Italian Jewry, with its thousand-year-old history of faith and culture, suffering and life.

Your visit will further strengthen the process of dialogue, friendship and brotherhood between the Jewish People – the People of the Covenant – and the Catholic Church.

Your visit today follows the preceding visits of Pope John Paul II in 1986 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, each of which marked an increase in the level of our relations.

We have an indelible memory of the images of the historic embrace between Pope John Paul II and Rabbi Elio Toaff thirty years ago, April 13, 1986. I was present, and I saw with my own eyes how the two approached one another, first held each other’s hands and then let themselves go in that gesture, one leaning against each other as if to sustain each other and erase the distance that for centuries had been unbridgeable.

On January 17, 2010 I had the pleasure of participating personally, as representative of Italy’s 21 Jewish Communities, in the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, then as today, together with our Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni. It was a significant meeting, with rich contents, during which the Pope reaffirmed our shared common roots as the basis to overcome all forms of misunderstanding and prejudice.

These two encounters have constituted crowning moments and the ideal continuation of a path that has not always been easy, which has its origins in the fundamentally positive shift ushered in with the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration, “Nostra Aetate.” This step, taken 50 years ago, radically changed the relationship between the Catholic Church and the whole of Judaism and is unanimously considered a milestone marking the beginning of a constructive dialogue, an evaluation largely shared by statements made during the numerous celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary, held in the past months.

In their diversity, in the mutual respect of different traditions, in the acceptance of equal dignity, the relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism has since then been experiencing a period of great progress, which we can certainly define as one of historic significance.

It is thanks to you, Pope Francis, that in recent years this new era has received further impetus. Personally, having had the honour of meeting you several times in these years, I have come to realize how strong and profound your ties are with the Jewish world.

In November, 2013, your first Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii gaudium”, was published. In the document, and on many further occasions, you conveyed affirmations that past generations of Jews had long hoped to hear spoken, notably, those whose very importance has not yet been recognized by all. I wish to mention a few relevant passages: “nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God”; “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable”; “The Church looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity.”

And finally, the most recent declaration by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews in December, 2015, which affirms: “that the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable.”

This doubtlessly positive landscape must not induce anyone to interrupt the path undertaken so far, aimed at further progress. In particular, I feel it is necessary to develop a common strategy that will permit wider diffusion, to the entire population, of the great work that has been accomplished and of the consolidation of sentiments of mutual respect, friendship and brotherhood which until today has remained largely confined to the religious and cultural elites, while prejudice and statements based on contempt continue to circulate, offending and hurting us. We cherish the hope that the young generations may reap the fruits of the seeds that have been sown, and that they may reaffirm the values of dialogue and of life.

In this respect we have great faith in your capacity to speak, to dialogue, and to succeed in making yourself heard by the Community of the faithful, in addition to the ecclesiastic hierarchy.

So often in the past, anti-Semitism was nourished by false symbols, created to spread false stereotypes and distorted depictions, above all in sections of the population that had less access to education. To take just a couple of examples: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the cult of Simon of Trent. What had been created in remote epochs marked by the dawn of communication technology, could become – and sadly, owing to powerful digital communication tools, might already have turned into – a new, increasingly dangerous, weapon.

The Catholic Church has always been attentive and aware of the importance of symbols and words, and you, dear Pope Francis, have given proof of a great capacity to virtuously disseminate important and complex messages with apparent simplicity, precisely through the power of example and symbolic gestures.

If we look at the international context, which we are surrounded and conditioned by, it appears quite clear that in this difficult moment Christians and Jews are bound by the same destiny, as you have recalled during your trip to Israel and in your meetings with both President Shimon Peres, and President Reuven Rivlin. Christians and Jews are forced to defend themselves against fierce enemies, who are violent and intolerant, who are using the name of God to spread terror and are committing the most atrocious crimes against humanity.

Salvation for all can come only through the creation of a strong coalition, based on shared ethical principles and values such as the respect for life and the quest for peace, capable of winning this challenge by walking together, side by side, with respect for diversity, but at the same time conscious of the many values, principles and hopes that unite us.

"Our Friendship in a New Era" by Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Rome

Welcome, Pope Francis, to the Great Synagogue in Rome; a place which was built as a sign of freedom after centuries of restrictions and humiliations; a place visited by kings, presidents, ministers; offended by the Nazis and stained with blood by Palestinian terrorists; but especially a house of prayer where the Jewish people in Rome have celebrated and still celebrate the most important moments of their private and collective life. Today the Temple is grateful to receive the third visit of the Pope and Bishop of Rome. According to the juridical rabbinic traditions, an act repeated three times becomes chazaqà, a habit. Clearly this is a concrete sign of the new era, after all that happened in the past. The breakthrough produced by the Vatican Council fifty years ago was confirmed by numerous and fundamental acts and declarations, the last one month ago, which opened up and established a new path to mutual knowledge, respect and collaboration.

Pope Francis is welcomed by the Jewish Community of Rome. We receive him in this community of faith with its ancient and sacred vocation which, as promised to Abraham, invokes a blessing on those who bless us. The people here today are the historical memory of this community, the unfortunately very few and last survivors of the horrors of the extermination camps, those wounded by terrorist attacks but also the witnesses and the protagonists of the intense organizational and religious life of this community. A community that resists the seductions of this time and invests its energy on its spiritual and social growth, in line with the ancient teachings. It is a positive and constructive testimony of its values in a society for which it difficult to find its own way. Together with the Roman Jews, there are here many representatives of Jewish people from Italy and from the rest of the world, Italian Rabbis, Israeli and European rabbinic delegations and representatives from the Israeli government and state. And also many people who actively work to strengthen the friendly relations between the two faiths. In fact, this event is not restricted to the Jewish community that is geographically closest to Catholicism. It reaches out to the rest of the world with a benevolent message.

Pope Francis’ visit takes place at the beginning of a special year for Christians, that he announced. The Bible founded the Jubilee that the Jewish people were not able to celebrate in line with the prescribed rules because of particular historical and political conditions; but the original idea of the Torah is still valid, it is a model to reshape society on the basis of dignity, equality and freedom. In any case, the Jewish people keep counting the sabbatical years; when multiplied by seven they represent the foundation of the Jubilee; during the sabbatical year – the last one has just finished – the land of Israel must rest and debts must be redeemed. We will soon celebrate the New Year of the Trees, connected to the agricultural cycle of the land of Israel. Many signs of the essential and religious relationship that we have with our promised land. Understanding this link should not be difficult for those who respect to the Bible, but it is still difficult.

In these days in which the Christians are celebrating this special year devoted to mercy with its ancient references and new meanings, we have realized that, at the beginning of the door opening ceremony, an ancient liturgical formula was recited “open the doors of justice”. A Jew knows that these words are familiar; it is a quotation from Psalms (118:19) pitchù li sha’arè tzèdeq, that we recite in our festive liturgy. It is an interesting link. The event of Christianity devoted to mercy maintains a relationship with its biblical origins; it uses the verses from the Psalms, focusing in particular on the theme of justice which cannot be separated from mercy. It shows that these separate and very different routes of the two religions do share a common heritage considered to be sacred by both of them. This separation is rooted in ancient history. From many perspectives, this can be considered a tragedy, an enigma or a blessing. Of course this division has promoted the growth of great autonomous spiritual worlds, but it has also produced hostility, persecutions and suffering. We are all waiting for the time, we don’t know how far away, in which these divisions will disappear. Each one of us has a different view of how this may happen. However, in the meantime, we must find a way to relate to one another, remaining faithful to our tradition. In peace and with respect.

In the light of all of the above, I believe that there are two main signs to be highlighted today. The first is the sign of continuity. The third Pope who visits our Synagogue proves that the gesture made by the first Pope is still valid and meaningful, that is a break from the past characterized by contempt for Judaism; John Paul II’s intuition was to translate the Council’s difficult doctrinal interpretations in concrete gestures and essential and easily comprehensible messages. This was the aim of his visit to the Synagogue; this, in turn, paved the way to the recognition of the state of Israel. His successor, Pope Benedict, adopted the same approach; now Francis has established a habit. We interpret all this as a sign that the Catholic church does not want to step back from the path of reconciliation.

Pope Francis’ personal commitment confirms this intention, as indicated by the great attention he has always attached to Judaism, first in his quality as Archbishop in Buenos Aires and now as Pope in Rome. Now he is here with us.

The second sign of this visit is dictated by the urgency of the times. The Near East, Europe and many other parts of the world are besieged by wars and terrorism. Today the sad novelty is that after two centuries of disasters produced by nationalism and ideologies, violence has come back and it is fed and justified by fanatic visions inspired by religion. And again this triggers religious persecutions. In the absence of other references and excuses, this destructive drive finds it support and nourishment in religion. On the contrary, a meeting of peace between different religious communities, as the one that is taking place today here in Rome, is a very strong sign against the invasion and abuse of religious violence.

We do not receive the Pope to talk about theology. Each system is autonomous, faith is not a commodity to be exchanged or to be negotiated on a political level. We welcome the Pope to reiterate that the religious differences, to be maintained and respected, must not justify hatred and violence. Instead, these must be enthused with friendship and collaboration and the experiences, values, traditions and great ideas which characterize our identity must be used to serve our communities.

Together, we must have our voice heard against any attack with a religious nature and for the defense all religions. However, we must be together not only to speak out against the horrors; we must work and cooperate on a daily basis. Our Jewish community invests all its resources to ensure its future and it carries out this commitments with a harmonious relationship with the society to the benefits all its members.

Yesterday, in all the Synagogues of the world, we read the chapters of the book of the Exodus that speak about the showdown between Moses, who asks the Pharaoh to free the Jews from slavery, and the Pharaoh, who opposes this request with all his means. We do not have a Moses guiding us, nor fortunately do we have a Pharaoh to fight. However, the very history of this Synagogue shows that a benevolent King can turn into persecutor. But this biblical story, the foundation of our faith, proves that the strength of the spirit is able to triumph and to crack even the strictest systems and the harshest regimes. We must be aware of our strength and trust our good values.

We have talked about doors opening. To conclude I would like to share with you a quotation, the words of the invocation we recite everyday at the end of the ‘amidà prayer, according to the Italian rite: “let the doors of the Torah, of wisdom, intelligence and knowledge, of nourishment and subsistence, of life, of grace, of love and of mercy and gratitude be open in front of You”. “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer”.


Francis Durghello Gattegna 2016jan17

Ruth Dureghello, Pope Francis, Renza Gattegna