We have covered much ground together since that 13 April 1986 when the Bishop of Rome – the first since the Apostle Peter – paid you a visit: it was the embrace of brothers who were meeting again after a long period fraught with misunderstanding, rejection and distress. With the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council inaugurated by Bl. Pope John XXIII, and especially after the publication of the Declaration Nostra Aetate (28 October 1965), the Catholic Church opened her arms wide to you, remembering that “Jesus was and will always remain a Jew” (Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church : III, 12). During the Second Vatican Council, the Church clearly and definitively reaffirmed her rejection of all expressions of anti-Semitism. However, the sincere deploration and condemnation of those hostilities directed against the Jewish people that have often marked history do not suffice; we must also develop friendship, esteem and brotherly relations with them. These friendly relations, reinforced and nurtured after the session of the Council in the last century, saw us united in commemorating the victims of the Shoah, especially those who were wrenched from their families and from your beloved Jewish Community in Rome in October 1943 and interned in Auschwitz. May their memory be blessed and induce us to work as brothers and sisters.
Moreover, it is only right to remember all those Christians, motivated by natural kindliness and an upright conscience and sustained by their faith and the teaching of the Gospel, who reacted courageously also in this city of Rome and offered the persecuted Jews practical help in the form of solidarity and assistance, sometimes even at the risk of their own lives. May their blessed memory live on, together with the certainty that for them, as for all the “just of nations”, the tzaddiqim, a place is prepared in the future world in the resurrection of the dead. Nor can we forget, in addition to the official pronouncements, the often-hidden action of the Apostolic See which went to the aid of the Jews in danger in many ways, as has been recognized by authoritative representatives of it (cf. We remember: A reflection on the “Shoah’, 16 March 1998).
With help from Heaven, in taking this road to brotherhood, the Church has not hesitated to express deep sorrow at “the failures of her sons and daughters in every age” (ibid.) and, in an act of repentance (teshuvà), has asked forgiveness for their responsibility connected in any way with the scourges of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism (ibid.). During the Great Jubilee, we prayed for God’s mercy in the Basilica sacred to the memory of Peter in Rome, and in Jerusalem, the city beloved by all Jews, the heart of that Land which is Holy for us all. The Successor of Peter went on pilgrimage to the hills of Judea and paid homage to the victims of the Shoah at Yad Vashem; he prayed beside you on Mount Zion at the foot of that Holy Place.
Unfortunately, the mere thought of the Holy Land gives rise in our hearts to anxiety and sorrow because of the violence that continues to stain that region and the excessive flow of innocent blood poured out by both Israelis and Palestinians that hinders peace in justice from dawning. Today, therefore, in faith and hope, we are addressing a fervent prayer to the Eternal One, to the God of Shalom, so that enmity and hatred may no longer overpower those who turn to our father, Abraham – Jews, Christians and Muslims – and may lead the way to a clear knowledge of the ties that bind them and the responsibilities that lie on each one’s shoulders.
We still have a long way to go: the God of justice and peace, of mercy and of reconciliation calls us to collaborate without wavering in our world today which is scarred by disputes and hostilities. If we can join our hearts and hands to respond to the divine call, the light of the Eternal One will shine close to us to illumine all peoples and show us paths to peace, to Shalom. Let us walk them with one heart.
Not only in Jerusalem and in the Land of Israel but also here in Rome, we can do many things together: for those close to us who are suffering marginalization, for immigrants and foreigners, for the weak and the poverty-stricken. Sharing the values of the defense of life and the dignity of every human person, we can increase our fraternal cooperation in concrete ways.
Our meeting today is, as it were, in preparation for your imminent solemnity of Shavu”òt and of our Pentecost which proclaim the fullness of our respective paschal celebrations. May these feasts see us united in praying David’s paschal Hallel.
“Hallelu et Adonay kol goim
shabbehuHu kol ha-ummim
ki gavar “alenu khasdo
we-emet Adonay le-“olam”.
“Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes, collaudate Eum, omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia eius,
et veritas Domini manet in aeternum” Hallelu-Yah (Ps 117).
– from Message of John Paul II to the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, for the Centenary of the Great Synagogue of Rome, May 22, 2004