The Pope noted that the relationship Christians have with the Jews is one that they don't have with any other religion, and pointed to common areas of collaboration in a society that has forgotten the sacred. He then asked for help from the Jewish community, the oldest in Rome, in making Rome a better city.
Many years then passed before another, historic visit took place. The German Pope Benedict XVI arrived to the Seat of Peter, and first wanted to visit the synagogue in Cologne, a tragic reminder of the "Kristallnackt," or "the Night of Broken Glass."
The Kristallnackt refers to a massive, coordinated attack against the Jews that took place throughout the German Reich the night of Nov. 9, 1938.
While in Cologne for World Youth Day in 2005, Benedict XVI visited the city's synagogue, and recalled the 60 years since the liberation from the Nazis.
In his speech, Benedict resumed the path of John Paul II, and took another step forward, condemning the antisemitism which in Europe raises its head like a dragon all too often. He also drew attention to the commitment of the German bishops, and said that we must love one another and put the Ten Commandments again at the center of Jewish-Christian dialogue.
From there, Benedict XVI's reflections began again when on Jan. 17, 2010, just six years ago, he crossed the threshold of Rome's Major Temple as a symbol of the "emancipation" of the Jews in Rome.
Rabbi Toaff had by then aged and become ill, but still wanted to greet the Pope. So Benedict went to his house and this time, the first embrace took place in his doorway.
In the synagogue to welcome Pope Benedict after was Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni. It will also be he who receives Pope Francis this Sunday, Jan. 17.
"How good it is for brothers to be together," the German Pope had said. And in one act the misunderstandings that often punctuate dialogue between Catholics and Jews seemed to dissolve.
Then he gave his reflection, almost in a rabbinic style, on the commandments and on mercy.
One mustn't forget the destruction of the extermination, he said; a German, who had visited Auschwitz asking for forgiveness. "How is it possible," he said in the synagogue, "to forget their faces, their names, their tears – the desperation of men, women and children?"
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Benedict retraced the common values of the two religions, from safeguarding life to caring for creation.
Then, on the Ten Commandments, he said that "all of the commandments are summed up in the love of God and in mercy toward others."
The key to everything, the point of union, is the mercy which "urges Jews and Christians to exercise, in our time, a special generosity towards the poor, towards women and children, strangers, the sick, the weak and the needy," he said.
"In the Jewish tradition there is a wonderful saying of the Fathers of Israel: 'Simon the Just often said: The world is founded on three things: the Torah, worship, and acts of mercy,' he said.
In exercising justice and mercy, "Jews and Christians are called to announce and to bear witness to the coming Kingdom of the Most High, for which we pray and work in hope each day," Benedict XVI continued.
Pope Francis, for whom mercy has been the center of his pontificate, will arrive to the synagogue in the Holy Year of Mercy with a personal history of relationships with Jewish friends from Buenos Aires.