With the permission of Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Shemuel Di Segni,
and of the Masters,
I would like to welcome the religious, civilian and military authorities present here, the representatives of the state of Israeli and all of you.
I feel moved to welcome Pope Francis on behalf of the whole Jewish community of Rome, the third Pope to cross the threshold of our Great Synagogue, whose short distance from St. Peter’s has seemed almost impossible to travel for centuries. Today’s meeting shows that the dialogue between great religions is possible. It is a pledge to be open to others and to promote peace and freedom for each human being. This shared commitment became a reality for the first time on April 13, 1986 with the Pope’s historical visit to this Synagogue.
We are here today thanks to two great champions of our time and especially to their courage: John Paul II and Elio Toaff zl. May their memory be a blessing for all of us.
This historical event occurred again on January 17, 2010, thus giving continuity to the friendly relationships between the two banks of the Tiber. This is the reason why I want to extend my warmest greetings to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Today we are again writing history.
It would have been difficult to imagine having this kind of meeting more than fifty years ago. Vatican Council II, launched by John XXIII, conceived Nostra Aetate, thus paving the way to a new path based on dialogue. Fifty years later, this path is still open also thanks to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
Your visit is not in the sign of ritualism. It is an important landmark at a very sensitive time for religions, which have to claim their space in the public discussion so as to provide their contribution to the moral and civic growth of society.
I feel I can say that the Jews and the Catholics, starting from Rome, must find together shared solutions to fight against the evils of our time. We have the responsibility to make the world in which we live a better place for our children.
As we know, Rome has a universal role. The Jews have been here for over 22 centuries.
Our Community has written an extraordinary story of identity survival notwithstanding discriminations and persecutions. It is a lively, active and complex community.
Today there are many expressions of Roman, Italian and international Judaism in this Synagogue, the symbol of the political emancipation of our Community after almost 400 years of segregation.
Jewish institutions have ancient roots and sound traditions and they represent highly committed of Jewish people who have provided support and care for the needy, the sick and the elderly over the centuries and, in particular, for the education of their children and for the new generations. In most cases, these people are volunteers who work every day behind the scenes, with or without official roles, so as to keep alive this Community, which is the greatest source of pride for me and for the whole city.
You, Pope Francis, have always been a friend of the Jewish world. You have taken with you from Argentina a sound relationship with the Jewish people, which you have strengthened since the beginning of your mandate. I want to recall two moments in which I felt particularly touched by your words. The first was during the visit of a delegation from this Community to the Vatican on October 11 2013, to which I had the honor to participate. You addressed our chief Rabbi stating “a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic. Let anti-Semitism be banned from the heart and the life of each man and woman”. The second was during the meeting You had a few weeks ago with the President of the World Jewish Congress, when you said that “attacking the Jews is anti-Semitism, but also a deliberate attack against Israel is anti-Semitism”. I want to reiterate this concept because this Community, like all the Jewish communities around the world, have an identity relationship with Israel. We are Italian and we are very proud of being Italian but, at the same time, we are part of the People of Israel.
It is through Your words that I repeat with determination that anti-Zionism is the most modern form of anti-Semitism.
Your trip to Israel and to its capital Jerusalem was a very important event for us. On that occasion too, You used words of profound respect for the Jewish State, hoping that it will be able to live in peace and security.
In order to make this dream come true, we have to remember that peace cannot be conquered through stabbing and terror. It cannot be achieved through bloodshed in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ytamar, Beth Shemesh and Sderot. It cannot be obtained by digging tunnels nor by launching missiles. Can we work on the peace process by counting the number of victims of terrorism? No, we can’t. We must all call for a stop to terrorism. Not only the terrorism in Madrid, London, Brussels and Paris, but also the daily terrorist attacks in Israel. Terrorism is never justified.
The hatred lesson which brings with it is far too evident. This is the lesson that comes from recent and less recent history. You saw its effects with your eyes in Buenos Aires with the anti-Semitic terrorist attack on July 18, 1994, which claimed 85 lives and wounded over 200 people.
Many wonder if Islamic terrorism is going to ever hit Rome. Ladies and gentlemen, Rome was already hit. Just one name: Stefano Gaj Taché z.l, two years of age, on October 9 1982, who was killed by a commando of Palestinian terrorists. I would like to thank the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, for his tribute to the memory of little Stefano during his swear-in speech before Parliament and President Giorgio Napolitano for having included him among the Italian victims of terrorism.
The hatred that comes from racism and bias or worse which uses God’s name or words to kill deserves our contempt and our firm condemnation.
Pope Francis, today we have a great responsibility vis-a-vis the world for the blood shed by terrorists in Europe and in the Middle East, for the blood of persecuted Christians and for the attacks against unarmed civilians even within the Arab world, for the heinous crimes against women. We cannot sit and look. We cannot remain indifferent. We cannot make the same mistakes of the past, when we remained silent and turned our backs. Men and women who did not do anything when train wagons stuffed with Jewish people were sent to the crematoriums. Here are in the first row our survivors of the Shoah, who remind us that Memory is not a self-comforting exercise to repair the horrors of the past. The memory of the greatest genocide in the history of mankind is kept alive so that nothing similar will happen again. This is our major commitment for the future and for the new generations.
On the occasion of this visit, today the Jews and the Catholics convey a new message with respect to the tragedies that have made the news in the last few months.
Faith does not generate hatred. Faith does not shed blood, faith calls for dialogue.
Coexistence should be based on openness towards the others, on peace and freedom, where it is possible to learn the respect for each other’s identity. As we do today here in Rome and in any other place.
We are sure that this awareness, which does not only belong to our religion, will find a collaborative attitude in the world of Islam. Our hope is that this message will reach the many Muslim people who share with us the responsibility to improve the world in which we live. We can make it together.
Shalom Pope Francis, Shalom to all of you.