What is the oldest unbroken human greeting


Hall of the Popes
Friday 11th October 2013


Dear friends of the Jewish community in Rome,

It is a pleasure for me to receive you and thus to have the opportunity to deepen and expand the first meeting with some representatives of your community on March 20th. I greet everyone very warmly, especially the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, whom I thank for the words addressed to me. I also thank him for remembering the courage of our ancestor Abraham when he struggled with the Lord to save Sodom and Gomorrah: "Perhaps there will only be thirty, perhaps only twenty-five, and perhaps only twenty ..." That is really a courageous prayer before the Lord. Thanks. I also greet the President of the Jewish Community of Rome, Dr. Riccardo Pacifici, as well as the President of the Union of Jewish Congregations in Italy, Dr. Renzo Gattegna.

In my capacity as Bishop of Rome I feel a very special closeness to the life of the Jewish community of Urbs: I know that it can look back on over two thousand years of uninterrupted presence in the city and can boast of being the oldest Jewish community in Western Europe. As a result, the Jewish community and the Church of Rome have lived together in this city of ours for centuries, with a history that - we know all too well - was often streaked with incomprehension and also with clear injustices. It is, however, a story that, through God's help, has seen the development of friendly and fraternal relationships for decades. The reflections of the Second Vatican Council certainly contributed to this change in mentality on the part of the Catholic Church. No less is due to the lives and actions of wise and generous men on both sides, who were able to recognize the call of the Lord and courageously embark on new paths of encounter and dialogue.

Paradoxically, the shared tragedy of war has taught us to walk side by side. In a few days we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Roman Jews. We will remember them and pray for the many innocent victims of human barbarism and their families.

This will also be an occasion to keep our attention always awake, so that no forms of intolerance and anti-Semitism can flare up again in Rome and in the rest of the world, under whatever guise this may happen. I have said it on another occasion, and I want to repeat it now: It is a contradiction for a Christian to be an anti-Semite. Its roots are also a little bit Jewish. A Christian cannot be an anti-Semite! Anti-Semitism must be banished from the heart and life of every man and woman! This anniversary also allows us to remember that in the hours of darkness the Christian community of this city was able to extend a helping hand to the brother in trouble. We know that innumerable religious houses, monasteries and even the papal basilicas, following the Pope's request, have opened their gates to fraternal reception, and that many ordinary Christians have offered all the help they could give, no matter how great or how great small this may have been.

The great majority certainly did not know about the need to update the Christian understanding of Judaism, and perhaps they knew little about the religious life of the Jewish community. But they found the courage to do what was right at that moment: to protect the brother who was in danger. I would like to emphasize this aspect, because as much as it is important to deepen the theological reflection on both sides through dialogue, it is also true that there is a vital dialogue - that of everyday experience - that is no less fundamental. Yes, without this, without a real and very concrete culture of encounter that leads to authentic relationships and that is free from prejudice and mutual distrust, the efforts in the intellectual field would be of little use. Here, too, as I often and gladly emphasize, the people of God have a good instinct and can sense what the path is that they should take according to God's will. In this case it is about the path of friendship, closeness, brotherhood.

I hope that in my capacity as bishop here in Rome I can contribute to this closeness and friendship, just as I have experienced the grace - because it was a grace - to do so with the Jewish community of Buenos Aires to be allowed. Among the many things that can bring us closer together, there is also the testimony of the truth of the Ten words of the Decalogue, as a secure foundation and source of life also for our society, which is so oriented through an extreme pluralism of possible decisions and orientations and characterized by a relativism that leads to no more fixed and secure points of reference (cf. Benedict XVI., Speech while visiting the Roman synagogue, January 17, 2010, 5-6).

Dear friends, I thank you for your visit and together with you I ask for the protection and blessing of the Almighty for our common path of friendship and trust. May he in his goodness grant his peace to our time. Thanks.