(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday met with members of Rome’s Jewish community
to mark the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the city’s Jewish population
during the Nazi occupation. Among those present was the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Dr. Riccardo
Di Segni, the President of the Jewish Community of Rome , Dr. Riccardo Pacifici, and
the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities , Dr. Renzo Gattegna.
Pope Francis began by expressing his closeness to Rome’s Jewish community, which is the oldest in Western Europe, having a continued presence in the city of over two thousand years.
“For many centuries…the Jewish community and the Church of Rome have lived in our city , with a history - as we well know - which was often transversed by misunderstandings and even true grievances,” Pope Francis said. “However, it is a story , that with the help of God , has for many decades experienced the development of friendly and fraternal relations.”
The Pope then turned to the occasion of the visit. The deportation of over one thousand Roman Jews on October 16, 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Rome. They were sent to Auschwitz, and only 16 ever returned to the homes.
“We will remember in a few days the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews of Rome. We will remember and pray for the many innocent victims of human barbarity , for their families,” said Pope Francis.
“It will also be an opportunity to keep vigilant so that, under any pretext, any forms of intolerance and anti-Semitism in Rome and the rest of the world not come back to life,” the Holy Father said.
“I've said it other times and I would like to repeat it now: It’s a contradiction that a Christian is anti-Semitic: His roots are Jewish,” said the Pope. “A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic ! Let Anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman!”
Pope Francis also said the anniversary offers a chance to remember how the Christian community responded during this “hour of darkness” to the needs of his brother in difficulty.
“We know how many religious institutions, monasteries and Papal Basilicas, interpreting the will of the Pope, opened their doors in a brotherly welcome , and how many ordinary Christians offered what help they could give, however big or small,” he said.
“The vast majority were not aware of the need to update the Christian understanding of Judaism, and perhaps knew very little about the life of the Jewish community,” Pope Francis continued.
“But they had the courage to do what at that time was the right thing : to protect their brother, who was in danger. I would like to emphasize this aspect , because if it is true that it is important, on both sides, to study, in depth, theological reflections through dialogue, it is also true that there is a dialogue of life, that of everyday experience , which is no less important . Indeed, without this , without a real and concrete culture of encounter , which leads to authentic relationships , which exist without prejudice and suspicion, the engagement in the intellectual field would serve little purpose. Here also, as I often like to underline , the People of God has its own intuition and realizes the path God asks them to travel. In this case, the path of friendship, closeness and fraternity,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis concluded by mentioning his friendship with the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, and recalling that Christians and Jews have the Decalogue in common, to be used as a solid foundation and source of life for society, “so disoriented by an extreme diversity of choices and positions, and marked by a relativism which does not have many firm or safe points of reference.”