ROME – Pope Francis denounced all violence committed in the name of God during a visit to Rome’s main synagogue Sunday, joining the oldest Jewish community in the diaspora in a sign of interfaith friendship at a time of religiously-inspired attacks around the globe.
During a visit marked by tight security and historic continuity, Francis also rejected all forms of anti-Semitism and called for “maximum vigilance” and early intervention to prevent another Holocaust.
Francis joined a standing ovation when Holocaust survivors, some wearing striped scarves reminiscent of their camp uniforms, were singled out for applause at the start of the visit. And he elicited an ovation of his own when he paused in his remarks to acknowledge the survivors in the synagogue’s front row.
The visit comes amid a spate of Islamic extremist attacks in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere – violence which Francis has repeatedly condemned as anathema to religion, particularly given that Christians and religious minorities have often been the target.
“Violence of man against man is in contradiction to every religion that merits the name, in particular the three monotheistic religions,” Francis said, referring to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. “Every human being, as a creature of God, is our brother regardless of his origins or religious belief.”
His sentiments were shared by members of the Jewish community, who sought to hold up the visit as a sign of interfaith friendship in the face of Muslim extremism.
“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,” Ruth Dureghello, president of the Rome’s Jewish community, said in introductory remarks.
Francis’ visit is meant to continue the tradition of papal visits that began with St. John Paul II in 1986 and continued with Benedict XVI in 2010. It also highlighted the 50th anniversary of the revolution in Christian-Jewish relations that was represented by the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the church into the modern era.
Among other things, the council document “Nostra Aetate” repudiated the centuries-old charge that Jews as a whole were responsible for the death of Christ.
Francis repeated several times that Jews were the “elder brothers” of Christians, repeating the words first uttered by John Paul during his historic visit to the synagogue but adding that Christians’ “elder sisters” in the Jewish faith were also part of God’s family.
Francis began his visit by laying a wreath at a plaque outside the synagogue marking where Roman Jews were rounded up by the Nazis in 1943 and at another marking the slaying of a 2-year-old boy in an attack by Palestinians on the synagogue in 1982.
He met with members of the boy’s family and survivors of the attack before entering the synagogue to rounds of warm applause, which continued during his speech, interrupting him several times.
The Argentine Jesuit has a longstanding friendship with the Jewish community in Argentina from his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
© 2016 The Canadian Press