Pope Francis waves as he delivers a "Urbi et Orbi" message at the Vatican April 5, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis met on Monday with a delegation of rabbis headed by Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, to discuss the religious rights of Jews in Europe amid a rise in extremist violence.
The meeting with representatives of the Conference of European Rabbis took place during a period of mourning in Rome for the death of Elio Toaff, longtime chief rabbi of Rome who died late Sunday aged 99. Francis called Toaff “a man of peace and dialogue” and said Monday’s encounter was carrying on the work of Toaff and Francis’s predecessor, John Paul II, who made great strides in strengthening relations between the two faiths.
Both Francis and Goldschmidt mentioned the upcoming 50-year anniversary of “Nostra Aetate” in October.
The document, produced by the Second Vatican Council, is a formal “Declaration on the Relation of the [Catholic] Church to Non-Christian Religions” that is seen as a key turning point in the relation between Jews and Catholics.
“This year, 2015, we celebrate 50 years of ‘Nostra Aetate’ with the declaration that the church, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved no by political reasons, but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone,” Goldschmidt said.
Goldschmidt quoted Francis’s 2013 ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ an apostolic exhortation that, among other things, called on Muslim countries to allow Christians to practice their faith. “I would not be overly dramatic if I would describe that many Jews in Europe feel themselves as Christians in the Middle East,” Goldschmidt said.
Francis stressed the common spiritual bond between Jews and Catholics, noting that Europe is “increasingly marked by secularism and threatened by atheism.”
Francis told the rabbis: “Jews and Christians together have the responsibility of preserving a sense of the sacred and reminding people that their lives are a gift from God.”
Francis said the Shoah, which ended 70 years ago this year, should remain a strong warning for present and future generations to avoid anti-Semitism.
The Conference of European Rabbis represents more than 700 rabbis from synagogues across Europe.