Pope Francis on Sunday visited Rome’s Great Synagogue, where he met with Jewish leaders and condemned religious violence. Pope Francis is the third pontiff to visit the synagogue, after popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The pope’s visit marks the latest step towards warmer Christian-Jewish relations, a process that started when the Second Vatical Council repudiated Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus in the 1960s. Under John Paul, the Vatican and Israel established diplomatic relations, and last month the Vatican released a document instructing Catholics not to try to convert Jews to Christianity.
“The violence of man against man is in contradiction with any religion worthy of this name, in particular the three great monotheistic religions [Judaism, Christianity, and Islam],” the pope said during his visit, referencing radical Islamist terror attacks around the world.
“Conflicts, wars, violence, and injustices open deep wounds in humanity that call on us to strengthen or commitment to peace and justice. Neither violence nor death will ever have the last word before God,” he said.
The pontiff also referenced the Holocaust by its Jewish name, saying that “the Shoah teaches us that we need the maximum vigilance in order to intervene quickly in defense of human dignity and peace.”
Several Holocaust survivors attended the pope’s visit and were greeted by the pontiff with a standing ovation. “Their tears should never be forgotten,” he said.
Jewish leaders who spoke during the pontiff’s visit echoed the theme of interreligious dialogue. “Faith does not generate hatred. Faith does not shed blood. Faith calls for dialogue,” said Ruth Dureghello, president of Rome’s Jewish community. “Our hope is that this message will reach the many Muslim people who share with us the responsibility to improve the world in which we live. We can make it together,” she said.
Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni condemned violence that is “justified by fanatic visions, inspired by religion.”
Yahya Pallavicini, an Italian-Islamic leader who is involved in interfaith activities, also attended the pope’s visit.