Rome – Pope To Visit Synagogue In Sign Of Friendship Amid Questions

When Pope Francis crosses the Tiber River to visit to Rome’s Great Synagogue on Sunday, he’ll become the third pontiff in history to do so. But his 1.5-mile journey to the towering Tempio Maggiore shows that what was once unthinkable is now the norm.

“Our meeting,” Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni told the Catholic newspaper L’Avvenire, “aims to convey a very topical, important and urgent message — that belonging to a faith, a religion, should not be a cause of hostility, hatred and violence, but that it is possible to build a peaceful coexistence, based on respect and cooperation.”

John Paul II’s visit 30 years ago marked a dramatic watershed in Catholic-Jewish relations. By crossing the threshold of the Tempio Maggiore, warmly embracing Rome’s then-chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, and famously referring to Jews as Christianity’s “older brothers,” the Polish-born pontiff broke down barriers that stretched back nearly 2000 years.

The visual impact alone of the pontiff and the chief rabbi embracing sent out a powerful message of reconciliation.

Formal dialogue between Catholics and Jews had begun only two decades before Pope John Paul II’s visit, with the Vatican’s 1965 Nostra Aetate declaration that repudiated the charge that Jews were collectively responsible for killing Jesus, stressed the religious bond between Jews and Catholics and called for interfaith contacts.

For centuries before that, as Brown University historian David Kertzer wrote in his 2001 book, “The Popes Against the Jews,” the Vatican “worked hard to keep Jews in their subservient place — barring them from owning property, from practicing professions, from attending university, from traveling freely.” Jews were confined to ghettos and often subjected to expulsions, forced conversions and other persecutions. In Rome, the Great Synagogue stands where the papal rulers kept Jews confined to a crowded ghetto until 1870.

John Paul made fostering relations between Catholics and Jews a cornerstone of his papacy.

“What he did was to assert that one could not be a Christian without recognition of one’s roots in the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, a longtime participant in Catholic-Jewish dialogue and a former vice president of the World Union of Progressive Judaism.

Pope Benedict XVI, who had been a key advisor to John Paul and an architect of his theological policy, followed John Paul’s lead. But Pope Benedict lacked his predecessor’s charisma, and some of his policies strained relations with the Jewish world.

His visit to the Rome synagogue in January 2010 reaffirmed the continuity of the Vatican’s commitment to Jewish-Catholic dialogue. But it came amid tensions sparked by his decision to move controversial World War II era Pope Pius XII — whom critics accuse of having turned a blind eye to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust — closer to sainthood.

Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, the then-president of the Italian rabbinical assembly, even boycotted the synagogue ceremony in protest.

Argentine-born Francis had a close relationship with the Jewish community even before his election to the papacy, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Since he became pontiff in March 2013 he has consistently demonstrated attention to Jewish issues and has won over many skeptics with his warmth. He visited Israel, along with Jordan and the West Bank, in 2014.

His visit to the synagogue “will not be marked by a novice stepping foot in an alien place and saying that I need to find my connection, as John Paul II did,” said Bretton-Granatoor. Pope Francis, he told JTA, “is wholly at ease with the Jewish community and Jewish life. His entrance into that synagogue will not be dissimilar to a Jew entering a synagogue in a new place — new, yet familiar.”

In May 2014, Pope Francis defused the Pius issue to some extent by making clear that he had no intention of fast-tracking his sainthood. And a Vatican document released in December to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate reiterated at length how Christianity is rooted in Judaism. It also renewed pledges of cooperation and stated that the Church as an institution should not try to convert Jews.

“Francis’s visit to the synagogue will be far closer to a family reunion precisely because the blessed new positive Catholic-Jewish relationship has become almost normative, and Francis is overwhelmingly seen as a true friend of the Jewish people, which indeed he is,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director for interreligious affairs.

Rosen added, “Three in Jewish tradition is a hazakah — that is, a confirmation. And now,” after this third papal visit, “it will almost be impossible for a pontiff not to visit the Rome Great Synagogue as well as to visit the State of Israel.”

2 replies
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    האפיפיור פרנציסקוס יגיע היום (א) לביקור בבית הכנסת המרכזי ברומא שממוקם בגטו היהודי בעיר ויתקבל שם על ידי הרב שמואל די – סייני, רבה הראשי של רומא, וראשי הקהילה היהודית בעיר.

    השבוע מציינים ברומא את שבוע היהדות, שיצויין באירוע מרכזי שיערך בבית הכנסת בהשתתפות האפיפיור ואליו יגיע גם שר הדתות דוד אזולאי.

    בגטו היהודי התגוררו יהודי רומא במשך מאות שנים, הקמת הגטו באה בעקבות טענתו של האפיפיור פאולוס הרביעי, כי היהודים הם רוצחי ישו ואינם יכולים לחיות כאזרחים שווי זכויות בעיר אחת עם הקתולים. ביקורו של האפיפיור הנוכחי הוא המשך ישיר להצהרתו מלפני כחודש, לפיו היהודים לא אשמים במותו של ישו.

    לפני הכניסה לבית הכנסת יבקר האפיפיור ביחד עם משלחת רבנים בשער הכניסה לגטו באנדרטה לזכר אנשי הקהילה היהודית שנשלחו לאושוויץ ב-1943, לאחר מכן יעצור האפיפיור בחצר בית הכנסת מול האנדרטה לזכר התקפת הטרור בשנת 1992 ויפגש עם המשפחות.

    בראיון שהעניק הרב ריקארדו די-סייני,-רבה הראשי של רומא, ביום ו’ לכלי התקשורת המקומיים, אמר הרב כי ביקורו של האפיפיור בא “לציין מערכת יחסים ידידותית בין הנוצרים והיהודים בתקופה בה חלה עליה משמעותית בטרור האיסלמי, למרות זאת כמה פעולות של הוותיקן בתקופה האחרונה גרמו למורת רוח בקהילה היהודית”. יצוין כי לפני מספר חודשים הודיע הוותיקן על הכרה רשמית במדינה פלסטינית, הודעה שעוררה אכזבה בישראל ובקרב הקהילה היהודית ברומא.

  2. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    Hundreds of armed police and security personnel were deployed in Rome on Sunday as Pope Francis prepared to visit the city’s main synagogue, where he will meet members of the Italian capital’s Jewish community.

    Rome’s Great Synagogue is located just across the River Tiber from the Vatican, in an area still known as the Ghetto where under the orders of some of Francis’s predecessors, Jews were confined for more than three centuries until their emancipation at the end of the 19th Century.

    Some 1,500 invited guests and 300 journalists are expected to witness the visit, due to begin around 4:00pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday.

    Francis is the third pope to visit the synagogue, after John-Paul II in 1986 and Benedict XVI in 2010, underlining greatly improved relations between the two faiths.

    Ties have become warmer still under Francis, who has a long-standing friendship with Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, with whom he jointly published a book of conversations about issues of ethics, morality and faith.

    As part of his visit, the pope will view two commemorative plaques in the synagogue’s gardens, one marking an incident in 1943 when more than 1,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz and the other
    a 1983 attack on the building that left 37 injured and one dead.

    After the deadly attacks in Paris in November, claimed by the Islamic State group, security for the pope’s visit is particularly tight, with basements in the area around the synagogue searched, dustbins sealed and parking banned.

    Fears of a Paris-style assault in Rome have seen visitor numbers fall, while soldiers with automatic rifles have become a common sight around the city’s historic center.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply