Cardinal Parolin highlights recently found 1916 Vatican letter condemning anti-Semitism

CNA 559552be39a41 66058 Cardinal Pietro Parolin at the Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome, Italy on July 2, 2015. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

The Vatican Secretary of State said Thursday that "a living and faithful common memory" is an indispensable tool to fight anti-Semitism.

"In recent years, we have witnessed the spread of a climate of evil and antagonism, in which anti-Semitic hatred has been manifested through a number of attacks in various countries. The Holy See condemns all forms of anti-Semitism, recalling that such acts are neither Christian nor human," Cardinal Pietro Parolin said at a virtual symposium Nov. 19.

Speaking at the "Never Again: Confronting the Global Rise of Anti-Semitism" virtual event organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, the cardinal stressed the importance of a sense of history in combating anti-Semitism.

"In this context, it is particularly interesting to consider what only recently has been found in the Historic Archive of the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State. I would like to share with you one small example that is especially memorable for the Catholic Church," he said.

"On Feb. 9, 1916, my predecessor, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, wrote a letter to the American Jewish Committee of New York, where he states: 'The Supreme Pontiff […], head of the Catholic Church, which -- faithful to its divine doctrine and to its most glorious traditions -- considers all men as brethren and teaches to love one another, he will not cease to inculcate the observance among individuals, as among nations, of the principles of natural right, and to reprove any violation of them. This right should be observed and respected in relation to the children of Israel as it should be as for all men, for it would not conform to justice and to religion itself to derogate there from solely because of a difference of religious faith.'"

The letter was written in response to the American Jewish Committee's request on Dec. 30, 1915, asking Pope Benedict XV to make an official statement "on behalf of the horror, cruelties and hardships visited upon the Jews in the belligerent countries since the outbreak of World War I."

Parolin recalled that the American Jewish Committee welcomed this answer, writing in the American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger that it was "virtually an encyclical" and "among all the papal bulls ever issued with regard to Jews throughout the history of the Vatican, there is no statement that equals this direct, unmistakable plea for equality for the Jews, and against prejudice upon religious grounds. […] It is gratifying that so powerful a voice, so influential a force, particularly in the regions where the Jewish tragedy is now being enacted, has been raised, calling for equality and for the law of love. It is bound to have a far-reaching, beneficent effect."

Parolin said that this correspondence was just "a small example … a little drop into an ocean of murky waters -- showing how there is no basis for discriminating someone because of faith."

The cardinal added that the Holy See considered interreligious dialogue an important means of countering anti-Semitism today.

More than 1,700 anti-Semitic hate crimes took place in Europe in 2019, according to data released earlier this week by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Incidents included murder, attempted arson, graffiti on synagogues, assaults on persons wearing religious garments, and the desecration of graves.

The OSCE also released data documenting 577 hate crimes driven by a bias against Christians and 511 driven by a bias against Muslims in 2019. 

"The re-emergence of hate against Jews, along with other forms of persecution against Christians and Muslims and members of other religions, needs to be analysed at its roots," Parolin said.

"In the encyclical letter 'Fratelli tutti,' His Holiness Pope Francis has offered a number of considerations and tangible ways on how to build a more just and fraternal world, in social life, politics and institutions," he said. 

Parolin provided the closing remarks for the symposium. Other speakers included Rabbi Dr. David Meyer, a lecturer in Rabbinic Literature and Contemporary Jewish Thought in the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

U.S. Ambassador Callista Gingrich said that anti-Semitic incidents had risen to "near-historic levels" in the United States, underlining that "this is unconscionable."

"The United States government is also pressing other governments to provide adequate security for their Jewish populations and is advocating for the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of hate crimes," she said.

"Currently, our government works with the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and other international organizations to confront and combat anti-Semitism."

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"Faith communities, through partnerships, coalitions, dialogue, and mutual respect, also have an important role to play."

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