(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday wished Jews around the world a sweet and peaceful
year 5774, called for increased dialogue among the world’s religious communities and
opposed fundamentalism in any faith. During his first private audience with an international
Jewish leader since being elected Catholic pontiff in March, Francis asked World Jewish
Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder to convey his New Year message to Jewish
communities world-wide and said he also needed a sweet year because of the important
decisions lying ahead. Using the Hebrew words for ‘Happy New Year’, Pope Francis wished
a "Shana Tova" and asked the WJC to share that message with the Jewish people worldwide.
Lauder presented the pope with a Kiddush cup and a honey cake.
At their meeting, which was held in an informal atmosphere at the Vatican, Lauder and the Catholic pontiff spoke about the situation in Syria and agreed to speak out against attacks on religious minorities, such as Coptic Christians in Egypt and against trends to restrict well-established religious practices such as circumcision. The pope specifically expressed concern about the bans on kosher slaughter in Poland and directed Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Vatican’s Commission for Relations with the Jews, to investigate and host a follow-up meeting as early as next week.
Francis reiterated a statement made last June that “a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite” and said that “to be good a Christian it is necessary to understand Jewish history and traditions.” He added that Jews and Christians shared the same roots and that dialogue was the key to building a common future. Referring to the conflict in Syria, the pope called the killing of human beings unacceptable and said “world leaders must do everything to avoid war.”
After the meeting, Ronald S. Lauder praised the pope for his unwavering commitment to dialogue and said that “Pope Francis’ leadership has not only reinvigorated the Catholic Church but also given a new momentum to relations with Judaism. Never in the past 2,000 years have relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people been so good. The leadership of successive popes over the past five decades has helped to overcome a lot of prejudice. This allows us now to work together in defending religious freedom wherever it is under threat and whichever community is affected.” (Communication issued by the World Jewish Congress)