By Daniela Gross
In Italian the word “dialogo”, as you easily can guess, means “dialogue”. However, to really understand what it means for the Italian Jewry you should add the word “interreligioso – interfaith”. The dialogue among the religions is a good practice at every latitude, but in Italy it implies to deal with the Church and with the catholic majority, not an easy job in a country where that relations have been so troubled and often very painful for centuries.
A new season in the interfaith dialogue was opened, more than fifty years ago, by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, whose declaration “Nostra Aetate” (in Latin “our age”), the document approved in regard to the relations with non-Christian religions, marked an authentic turning point.
Twenty years later Pope John Paul II gives a new boost to the “dialogo”. He was the first pope to visit Auschwitz, in 1979, and on April 13th, 1986 he visited the Great Synagogue in Rome: The first official papal visit ever made to a synagogue, a symbolic and important event. John Paul II was received by Rabbi Elio Toaff, the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome and during the ceremony noted the Christianity’s unique bond with Judaism, pronouncing the famous sentence “You are our beloved brothers… you are our elder brothers”. In 1993 he established formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, acknowledging its centrality to Jewish life.
In these years the interfaith dialogue became in Italy a widespread practice, with regular meetings throughout the country. It doesn’t mean that the anti-Semitism was beaten, but it is absolutely a good step forward. Now the next trip of Pope Francis to Israel, in the 50th anniversary of the historic visit to Jerusalem by Pope Paul VI, could open a new significant perspective.