Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, said Pope Francis’ visit to Rome’s major synagogue this weekend is a sign of strengthened Jewish-Catholic relations, and shows that differences in belief should be a source of peace rather than violence.
The rabbi told CNA Jan. 14 that for the Jewish community in Rome “there are two main points” to the Pope’s visit to the synagogue, which is scheduled to take place Sunday, Jan. 17.
“The first one is that it is a sign of continuity. This Pope wants to confirm the way of his two predecessors and not to put a stop in the way of good relations.”
“And the second point is related to the urgency of our time, which is marked by intolerance and violence inspired by religion, or bad teachers of religion.”
Pope Francis’ encounter with Rome’s Jewish community, then, is aimed at communicating the opposite: “we want to show that differences of religion is a seed of tolerance, coexistence, and building peace,” Di Segni added.
Known for the great emphasis he places on interreligious dialogue, Francis will follow in the footsteps of two of his predecessors. In 1986 St. John Paul II became the first Pope to visit the synagogue. Benedict XVI imitated the gesture, making a visit of his own in 2010.
According to a Nov. 17, 2015, Vatican communique announcing the Pope’s visit, the encounter will consist of a personal meeting between Pope Francis and representatives of Judaism and the members of the Jewish Community in Rome. No other details have yet been published.
In his comments to CNA, Di Segni said that as far as Jewish-Catholic relations go, “we are in an interesting point of development.”
He noted that 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christians religions.
When Nostra aetate was promulgated by Bl. Paul VI in 1965, it marked the first time bishops had explicitly said that the Church “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religious traditions, urging Catholics to pursue dialogue and collaboration with people of all religions.
In particular, the document radically reshaped Catholic relations with the Jewish world, decrying “hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” and stating that “what happened in [Christ's] passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.”
Fifty years after the document’s publication, which marked “a fundamental point, a turning point, of history,” the two religions still enjoy “a good experience” in terms of their relationship, Di Segni said.
“Many problems were solved, others were discussed. The important point is that there are ways of communication and good will to discuss together.”
One example of a recent landmark in Jewish-Catholic relations is the Dec. 10, 2015, publication of a Vatican document that discusses the means of salvation for the Jewish people.
Another move reflecting Pope Francis’ desire to strengthen interreligious dialogue was an Oct. 26-28, 2015, conference hosted by the Vatican in honor of Nostra aetate's anniversary.
Representatives of religions from around the world were invited to participate. Among the traditions represented were Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
In continuity with what has proved to be his great desire to strengthen interreligious relations, the Pope also released a new video message on his monthly prayer intentions dedicated to the topic.
The Pope's intention for this month is dedicated to interreligious dialogue, that “sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice.”
However, when it comes to the Church’s dialogue with the Jewish people, Di Segni said that “we think that our dialogue is not theological dialogue.”
Rather, it’s “a dialogue between people of different faiths who gain reciprocal respect and understand that differences are a powerful tool in the hands of the people who manage them well.”