Address to Executive Committee Meeting
of the World Jewish Congress
Rome, 22 November 2022
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to thank you for your kind invitation to speak at the Executive Committee Meeting of the World Jewish Congress here in Rome. It is really quite unique that a Jewish organization is meeting one day in the Synagogue of Rome and another day in the Vatican. This is a clear sign that we as Jews and Catholics are belonging together, that there is a unique relationship between our religious traditions. Since the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration “Nostra aetate” (No. 4) in 1965 the Catholic Church has undertaken a systematic dialogue with the Jewish people. Thanks to the progressive implementation in tangible ways of this document 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. Over the last 57 years, based on this ground-breaking declaration, 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.
Nowadays both of our religious traditions are threatened by a spirit of militant secularisation and prevailing 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.” (Address of 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.
Working together actively for peace in our world has become even more important since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, which affects Jews and Christians together. It is our common duty to help the refugees and to assist all the people who are suffering because of this violent and cruel conflict. Together we should contribute to end this war as soon as possible by diplomatic means. Every war is a defeat of humanity creating immense sufferings and sorrow.
May your encounter here in the Synagogue and the Vatican 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 you a fruitful and rewarding meeting.