Rome, 13 May 2019

Cardinal Kurt Koch

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I greet and welcome all the participants of the 24th International Catholic–Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) Meeting here in Rome. I extend a warm welcome to all the Jewish and Catholic members, and a welcome to our guests, in particular the Prime Minister of the Italian government, Mr Giuseppe Conte; the representatives of the city of Rome; the representatives of the Italian Jewish community, especially the current president Mrs Noemi Di Segni; the representative of the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Rabbi Benedetto Carucci; the President of the Board of the Jewish Community in Rome Mrs Ruth Dureghello; His Eminence Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference; Bishop Paolo Selvadagi, representing the Vicariate of Rome; together with representatives of the Catholic Church in Italy. I wish to express my special thanks to the Italian Bishops’ Conference for its cooperation with the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in helping to prepare this conference. I greet also the supportive and efficient Jewish and Catholic co–workers, who have committed themselves with such dedication over the last months organising this conference.

I am very happy that the ILC meeting is taking place in Rome, since it has not been organized here for more than twenty years. The relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community in Rome in past centuries had been a very complicated and sensitive one. For over 2,000 years, from the time of the Maccabees, the Jewish community has been an integral part of the life of this city; the community can proudly claim to be the most ancient in Western Europe and to have played a significant role in the diffusion of Judaism in this continent. The Jewish community and the Catholic Church have shared the history of Rome from ancient times. Undoubtedly, relations between our two community have not always been free of tensions and misunderstandings. Nonetheless, thanks also to the Second Vatican Council and the progressive implementation in tangible ways of the document Nostra aetate (No.4), our relations have become increasingly warmer and more fraternal. This declaration of the Second Vatican Council remains the basic and binding document, and in our future efforts it will remain our compass and “Magna Charta”. Our dialogue with the Jewish people is not just any extraneous engagement but has to do with our own Christian identity; therefore for us it is not a matter of one possible option but an inner obligation and duty. Nostra aetate (No.4) speaks of the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews, and it seeks to foster and encourage mutual understanding and respect, particularly in the field of biblical and theological studies.

Regarding the dialogue of the Jewish community with the Catholic Church in Italy, I wish to mention the day of remembrance that has become known as the “Day of Judaism”, which has been held annually since 1990. By introducing this Day, the Italian bishops, the first in the world, have wanted to create a further opportunity for reflection and for mutual understanding and respect between Christians and Jews, in harmony with the turning point of the Second Vatican Council, after centuries of Christian prejudice and persecution of Jews.

Opening today our 24th Meeting also entails looking back with deep satisfaction to a common history since our first ILC Meeting in 1971 in Paris. We can be proud enough to say that with the last twenty-three meetings in 54 years we have written history. These meetings mark a progress in Jewish–Catholic relations which some decades ago nobody would have thought possible. Over these years, based on the ground-breaking declaration Nostra aetate (No.4), our relationship has changed irreversibly not only for our own mutual benefit but – as is our hope and our intention – for the good of all humanity. In these years old prejudices and enmities have been overcome, better mutual understanding has been fostered, reconciliation and cooperation initiated and personal friendship consolidated. It is with profound gratitude that we recall all those who have been and continue to be committed to this important dialogue and have aspired to strengthening trust and mutual respect between us.

Nowadays both of our religious traditions are threatened by a spirit of militant secularisation and aggressive atheism that tends to marginalise our moral values that have their shared origins in the revelation of the One God. Whoever tries to cut off these religious roots is in danger of destroying our cultures. Therefore, Catholics and Jews have the common task of giving witness of the unique God who revealed to humanity how to live in the right relation to Himself and to others. Pope Francis is convinced that “Jews and Christians … share a rich spiritual heritage, which allows us to do much together. At a time when the West is exposed to a depersonalizing secularism, it falls to believers to seek out each other and to cooperate in making divine love more visible for humanity; and to carry out concrete gestures of closeness to counter the growth of indifference. … In a world where the distance between many who have little and the few who have much grows every day, we are called to take care of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters: the poor, the weak, the sick, children, and the elderly” (Address of Pope His Holiness Pope Francis to Members of the American Jewish Committee, 8 March 2019).

Indeed, our common spiritual patrimony is so great that we cannot become alienated. With our shared heritage we have a common responsibility to work together for the good of humankind, refuting anti–Semitism and anti–Catholic and anti–Christian attitudes, as well as all kinds of discrimination, to work for justice, solidarity and peace, to spread compassion and mercy in an often cold and merciless world. This cannot be done once for all; it is an ongoing task, which must be undertaken anew in each generation. Therefore, I wish to stress the importance of education. The future of our dialogue is dependent on the formation of the younger generations, which must not only be taught the history of Jewish–Catholic dialogue and the progress we have made in the last decades, but must be actively and responsibly involved, participating at even an early stage. Since 2009 our “Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews” and the “International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations” has organized the “Emerging Leadership Conferences” for preparing young people who can guarantee the continuation of our dialogue efforts. The last one of these conferences took place at the beginning of July last year in Vilnius (Lithuania).

The official theme of our conference over the next days is: “People, Ideas, and Boundaries on the Move”. We will speak about the challenges of the refugee crisis, about anti–Semitism and the persecution of Christians today, about religious freedom, the relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel, and about the current situation of the Jewish–Catholic dialogue here in Italy. It is my wish that we speak about these themes also as religious people, deepening the spiritual and theological dimension of our dialogue because the inseparable bond that unites Christians and Jews is very clear. These aspects are a priority for our “Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews”, which on December 10, 2015, published the document “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable” dealing with theological questions that have emerged since the Second Vatican Council. It has become evident over time that the reflections offered in this document have been well–received and have become a starting point for further theological reflection. Furthermore, Orthodox Jewish organisations have responded to this document by publishing their own statements. Therefore, our theme should be discussed not only in a social or political manner but in a particular way it should also encompass the theological dimension.

May our encounter here in Rome be a positive and constructive step on the path of deepening our friendship, and may it give a witness to the world of mutual understanding and respect. Only together, shoulder to shoulder, can we go ahead blessed by the Eternal One. In this sense, I wish all of us a fruitful and rewarding meeting.