Pope John Paul II condemned anti-Semitism this Monday using the words of the Second Vatican Council, “clearly and definitively…in all its expressions.” But he also stressed that “it is not enough to deplore and condemn hostility against the Jewish people; … it is necessary to also foster friendship, esteem and fraternal relations with them.”
The Pope’s words were contained in a message to the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, on the occasion of the centenary of the synagogue in the Italian capital. They were read during a commemorative service on Sunday by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general of Rome. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism, was also present to represent the Holy Father.
In the message, the Holy Father sends special greetings to the former Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff, who received him during his historic visit made on April 13, 1986. “This event,” he writes, “remains instilled in my memory and in my heart as a symbol of the newness that has characterized in the last few decades relations between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church, after periods which were sometimes difficult and sad.”
He then recalled the victims of the Holocaust, and especially members of the Jewish community of Rome who in October of 1943 were taken to Auschwitz. “May their memory lead us to work as brothers.”
“Thus,” he added, “ it is necessary to recall all those Christians … who acted with courage, also in the city of Rome, to help persecuted Jews, offering them their solidarity and help, sometimes even risking their own lives. … We also cannot forget, along with official pronouncements, the Apostolic See’s action, often hidden, which in many ways helped Jews in danger, something which has been recognized by their representatives also.”
The Pope indicates that the Church has deplored the mistakes of its daughters and sons and has asked for forgiveness “for their responsibility related to the plagues of anti-Semitism.” In addition, he recalls the homage he paid to the victims of the Shoah at Yad Vashem in March 2000.
The letter also turns to the situation in the Middle East: “Unfortunately thinking about the Holy Land causes concern and sadness in our hearts for the violence that continues in that area, for the great quantity of innocent blood shed by Israelis and Palestinians. … Therefore, today we want to direct to the Eternal God a fervent prayer … so that enmity … gives way to clear awareness of the bonds that link them and to the responsibility that weighs on everyone’s shoulders.”
“Nevertheless,” Holy Father’s letter concludes, “we still have a long way to go: the God of justice and peace, of mercy and reconciliation, calls us to collaborate without vacillating in our modern world, scarred by conflict and hostility. If we know how to unite our hearts and hands in order to respond to the divine call, the light of the Eternal One will draw close to illuminate all peoples, showing us the ways of peace, of Shalom. We would like to go along these paths with one heart.”