Father Norbert Hofmann, SDB, Secretary


1. A new impulse: Pope Francis and dialogue with the Jews

The Jewish–Catholic dialogue received a new impulse with the election to the Pontifical See of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who had already fostered close contacts with the local Jewish community when Archbishop of Buenos Aires. During that time, he visited synagogues, participated in Jewish commemorations and celebrations, entered into dialogue with leading Jewish figures in the city and formed personal friendships that endure until today. As Pope Francis, he has brought these enriching experiences to the international level; for him, dialogue with Jews is a totally natural fact.

On the day after his election as Pope, the Jewish community of Rome received a letter from him confirming his firm intention to promote dialogue with Jews. Thus, it was clear from the start that the new Pope would unreservedly commit himself to Jewish–Catholic dialogue, and to deepening and strengthening existing bonds of friendship. The worldwide Jewish community welcomed the election of Cardinal Bergoglio with particular joy; the many congratulatory messages testify to this in an impressive way. A delegation of leading Jewish representatives, among whom many friends from the United States, Israel, Argentina and the Jewish community in Rome, attended the inauguration ceremony of the pontificate of Pope Francis in March 2013.

In a private meeting in June 2013, Pope Francis greeted the representatives of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) as “elder brothers”, expressing his happiness in welcoming an official Jewish delegation in the Vatican for the first time in his pontificate. On that occasion, he recalled the importance of the Conciliar Declaration “Nostra aetate” (no.4) and the commitment of his predecessors to promoting dialogue, mentioning also his personal experiences in the Jewish–Catholic dialogue in Buenos Aires. Concluding, he reaffirmed the need for the shared witness of Christians and Jews.

Pope Francis still maintains regular contact with his Jewish friends in Argentina, who also through visits to the Holy Father in the Vatican continue to testify to the enduring bonds of affection and friendship developed in the years that Cardinal Bergoglio was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. For example, in January 2014 the Pope received a delegation of Argentinian Jews, whom he received in a very informal way.

At the local level as well, Pope Francis has demonstrated his intention to establish close relations with the Jewish community of Rome. He personally informed the Chief Rabbi Di Segni on the very day of his inauguration of his aspiration to meet him together with representatives of his community. This meeting took place on 11 October 2013, five days before the 70th anniversary commemoration of the deportation of Jews from Rome to Auschwitz–Birkenau. In reflecting on this tragic event, the Pope highlighted the historical importance of the Jewish community of Rome and the fluctuating events marking the coexistence of Jews and Catholics in the city. Pope Francis also expressed his firm intention to visit the Roman synagogue, although it has not yet been possible to schedule a date.

Pope Francis received an official visit of the presidency of the World Jewish Congress and a delegation of the Simon–Wiesenthal–Center at the Apostolic Palace in Autumn 2013. He informally received a group of Muslims, Jews and Catholics from Buenos Aires at Domus Sanctae Marthae. Shortly before the 2014 Jewish New Year he received a larger delegation of lay presidents of Jewish communities, mainly from Latin America. There is a special importance to his visit in May 2014 to Israel, where he met both Chief Rabbis, prayed before the Western Wall, and embraced his two Argentinian friends, a Muslim and a Jew. During his visit to Israel, particular attention was naturally focussed on his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, where Pope Francis prayed for the victims of the Shoah and spent time in personal reflection.


2. Dialogue with the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC)

The International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) continues to be the official Jewish partner of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. The Committee groups together nearly all the main Jewish organizations, many of them with headquarters in the United States. The IJCIC was established in 1970. The first joint conference was organized a year later in Paris. Conferences have been held regularly every two years since then, fruit of the work of the International Catholic–Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) and the cooperation between the IJCIC and our Commission.

The last conference was held in Madrid from 13–16 October 2013 with the cooperation of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference on the theme “Challenges for Religion in Contemporary Society”. The conference reflected on the common heritage of Jews and Christians, the importance of human rights and religious freedom, the increasing persecution of Christians and on growing anti–Semitism. The shared position statement made public at the end of the meeting is testimony to the fact that we can join ranks in response to particular social challenges on the basis of shared values.

Our cooperation with IJCIC has proven to be very fruitful over the years, and not only in relation to the joint conferences. For example, the IJCIC organized two visits to the Vatican of a delegation of Jewish leaders with a view to promoting a better understanding of the Roman Curia. As well as meeting with the authorities of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews during the visits, the participants met with the Cardinal Secretary of State, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and other staff of the Curia. It should also be mentioned that recently the IJCIC expressed its solidarity with Christians in the Middle East by releasing a press statement harshly condemning the persecution of Christians in the region.


3. The involvement of future generations in the dialogue

Over the last six years, there has been a joint initiative with IJCIC to promote the generational change in Jewish–Christian relations. Both sides are convinced of the importance of training and involving younger generations in the dialogue in order to ensure the future of Jewish–Christian dialogue. The “Emerging Leadership Conferences” for young people have developed in this context, and have been made possible with the financial support of sponsors. The first conference was held in June 2009 at Castel Gandolfo in cooperation with the Focolare Movement. About 50 young Jews and Catholics from various parts of the world met for four days to reflect on the theme “Discovering Common Values”. Following its success, it was decided to organize conferences every two years, alternating with the ILC meetings. The second conference for young Jews and Catholics took place in June 2012 near New York on the theme “Catholics and Jews: Our Common Values, Our Common Roots”. The last conference took place last July in cooperation with the Konrad–Adenauer–Stiftung of Berlin on the theme “Challenges to Faith in Contemporary Society”. The young participants have generally expressed enthusiasm regarding this experience, whose fundamental aim is to promote reflection and incentives to encourage youth to promote Jewish–Catholic relations in a tangible way in local contexts.


4. Dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel

Alongside dialogue with IJCIC, mention must be made of the institutional relationship with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which can be considered to be the fruit of the encounter of Pope John Paul II with the Chief Rabbis of Israel during his visit to Israel in March 2000. The first colloquium took place in Jerusalem in 2002, and there have been twelve meetings since then alternating between Jerusalem and Rome on a yearly basis. The two delegations are relatively restricted in number, comprising about 15 members in order to ensure personal discussion and deeper reflection on various issues. Given that the meetings are attended by bishops and priests on the Catholic side, and almost exclusively by rabbis on the Jewish side, it is not surprising that the various themes are considered from a religious point of view. This fact should not be taken for granted, as generally there is a tendency to avoid religious and theological questions in Orthodox Judaism. Dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has facilitated a further opening of Orthodox Judaism towards the Catholic Church on the worldwide level. A joint declaration is released publically at the end of each meeting. Looking back over the last twelve years of dialogue, we can conclude with gratitude that a deep friendship has developed.

Two new Chief Rabbis were appointed in Jerusalem in July 2013, whom Pope Francis met during their visit to him in May 2014. The two Chief Rabbis wish to take forward the dialogue with the Holy See.


5. Future prospects for dialogue with Judaism

The prospects for dialogue with Judaism can be discerned from the above discussion. In the first place, the dialogue with the IJCIC must continue with energy, patience and perseverance, offering new impulses and widening horizons. As well, efforts must be made to continue the dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate, with direct contact being made with the two new Chief Rabbis and guidelines outlined for future dialogue.

The effort to promote a generational change in Jewish–Catholic dialogue, with the recruitment of young people to act as “multipliers” in the wake of the positive developments of “Nostra aetate” (No.4), is one the most fruitful recent developments. The “Emerging Leadership Conferences” must certainly continue in order to transmit a valuable tradition to future generations.

We Catholics must undertake the urgent task of promoting a deepened clarification of the theological questions pertaining to Jewish–Catholic dialogue. Within the framework of the “dialogue ad intra”, an important step will be to encourage Catholic theologians to lay the foundations for a Christian theology of Judaism. This has not yet been undertaken, despite numerous and promising initiatives proposed by leading figures in the Jewish–Catholic dialogue.

Pope Francis has set out three aims for the dialogue: the formation of future generations; a deeper purely theological inquiry; and cooperation in works of charity. It is not a question of a simple exchange of ideas and words; Jews and Christians can together offer assistance to the marginalized, the poor, the less fortunate, the sick. Aid agencies are not lacking in either the Catholic or the Jewish spheres. Therefore, cooperation in this field could and should be strengthened.

Through dialogue and cooperation, the communities can together become a blessing for humanity. Dialogue with Judaism must therefore be strengthened, and promoted with conviction, momentum, joy and creativity. Our Jewish interlocutors are naturally looking at this pontificate with great interest and great expectations, considering Pope Francis to be a reliable friend.