|For the first time a delegation of the Conference of European Rabbis, presided by Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, has met with the Successor of Peter in the Vatican. Pope Francis, who received them this morning, expressed his joy at this event, and at the same time offered his condolences, which he extended to the Jewish community of Rome, for the death yesterday of the ex Grand Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, a “man of peace and dialogue”, who received Pope John Paul II during his historical visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome in April 1986. For this reason, the current Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, was not present at the meeting.
In his address to the delegation, the Pope emphasised that the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish communities continues to progress as it has for half a century; 28 October will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, which is still the reference point for efforts in this regard. “With gratitude to the Lord, may we recall these years, rejoicing in our progress and in the friendship which has grown between us”, he said.
“Today, in Europe, it is more important than ever to emphasise the spiritual and religious dimension of human life”, he continued. “In a society increasingly marked by secularism and threatened by atheism, we run the risk of living as if God did not exist. People are often tempted to take the place of God, to consider themselves the criterion of all things, to control them, to use everything according to their own will. It is so important to remember, however, that our life is a gift from God, and that we must depend on him, confide in him, and turn towards him always. Jews and Christians have the blessing but also the responsibility to help preserve the religious sense of the men and women of today, and that of our society, by our witness to the sanctity of God and human life. God is holy, and the life he has given is holy and inviolable”.
Francis voiced his concerns regarding increasing anti-Semitism and acts of hatred and violence in Europe, and affirmed that “every Christian must be firm in deploring all forms of anti-Semitism, and in showing their solidarity with the Jewish people”. He also referred to the recent seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the concentration camp which has come to be synonymous with the great tragedy of the Shoah. The memory of what took place there, in the heart of Europe, is a warning to present and future generations. Acts of hatred and violence against Christians and the faithful of other religions must likewise be condemned everywhere”.
“Dear friends”, he concluded, “I heartily thank you for this very significant visit. I extend my best wishes to your communities, with the assurance of my closeness and prayers. And, please, do not forget to pray for me. Shalom alechem!”.
Pope Francis has sent a letter of condolences to the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, for the death yesterday of his predecessor in this role, Rabbi Elio Toaff, at the age of 99. The following is the full text of the letter.
“I wish to express my heartfelt participation in the mourning of the family and the entire Jewish community of the capital following the departure of the Rabbi Professor Elio Toaff, the long-time spiritual guide of the Jews of Rome.
A key figure in Italian Jewish and civil history during recent decades, he knew how to earn esteem and appreciation through his moral authority, linked to a profound humanity.
I recall with gratitude his generous efforts and sincere willingness to promote dialogue and fraternal relations between Jews and Catholics, which experienced a significant moment in his memorable encounter with St. John Paul II at the Synagogue of Rome.
I raise prayers that the Almighty, rich in love and faithfulness, welcome him in His Kingdom of peace”.