Pope Francis, in visit to Rome’s Great Synagogue, calls for end to religious violence

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Making the third visit ever by a pope to Rome’s Great Synagogue, Pope Francis and Jewish leaders condemned violence in the name of religion and said the extraordinary rapprochement between Jews and Catholics over the past 50 years should serve as a model for other faiths.

“Conflicts, wars, violence and injustices open deep wounds in humanity and call on us to reinforce the commitment to peace and justice,” Francis said Sunday.

“The violence of man against man is in contradiction with any religion worthy of the name, and in particular with the three great monotheistic religions,” he said. “Every human being, as a creature of God, is our brother regardless of his origins or religious belief.”

Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni described “fanatic visions inspired by religion” that are used to justify violence and terrorism in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere in the world.

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“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,” he said.

Francis’s visit comes half a century after the Vatican’s landmark Nostra Aetate declaration, which opened the way to formal Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

Pope John Paul II became the first reigning pope to visit a synagogue, in April 1986, a watershed event where he embraced the then-chief rabbi and called Jews Christianity’s “elder brothers.” The Jewish presence in Rome stretches back more than 2,000 years, and the community is considered the oldest in the Diaspora.

Pope Benedict XVI followed up with a visit to the Rome synagogue in January 2010.

“According to the juridical rabbinic traditions, an act repeated three times becomes chazaka, a habit,” Di Segni said. “Clearly this is a concrete sign of the new era, after all that happened in the past.”

During his speech to a sanctuary packed with Jewish community members and representatives of the government, international Jewish organizations, the State of Israel and other faiths, Francis stressed that Christianity is rooted in Judaism.

“You are, in fact, our older brothers and sisters in faith,” he said. Christians, he added, “to understand themselves, cannot fail to make reference to the Jewish roots, and the Church, while professing salvation through faith in Christi, recognized the irrevocability of the Ancient Alliance and constant and faithful love of God for Israel.”

Francis recalled the Holocaust, and noted that experience of the Holocaust must serve as a lesson for the present and the future.

“The Shoah teaches us that we always need the greatest vigilance to intervene promptly in defense of human dignity and peace,” he said.

Francis also addressed his personal feeling of closeness to Holocaust survivors, a group of whom were seated in the first row of the sanctuary.

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