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Pope Francis at Rome synagogue: God’s covenant with Jews ‘irrevocable’

Pope Francis gestures at the end of his visit at Rome's Great Synagogue, Italy January 17, 2016. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi courtesy of Reuters
Pope Francis gestures at the end of his visit at Rome's Great Synagogue, Italy January 17, 2016. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi courtesy of Reuters

Pope Francis gestures at the end of his visit at Rome’s Great Synagogue, Italy January 17, 2016. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi courtesy of Reuters

ROME (RNS) Pope Francis stressed the “irrevocability” of God’s covenant with the Jews and cited the Holocaust as a reminder of the ongoing need to combat violence as he made his first visit to Rome’s main synagogue on Sunday (Jan. 17) amid tight security.

“Violence by man against man is in contradiction with any religion worthy of that name, and in particular with the three great monotheistic religions,” Francis told a crowd filling the Great Synagogue just down the Tiber River from the Vatican. “Life is sacred, a gift of God.”

“Every human being, as a creature of God, is our brother, regardless of his or her origin or religious affiliation,” he said, calling on Christians and Jews to “put into practice the logic of peace, of reconciliation, of forgiveness” in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Francis noted that thirty years ago this April, Saint John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit a synagogue when he came to Rome’s temple, and six years ago Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also visited.

Those visits, and his own on Sunday, Francis said, are evidence of the “transformation” in Catholic-Jewish relations that has taken place since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago.

Video of the pope visiting the Rome synagogue:

In Rome itself, until the mid-19th century, Jews were forced to live in the quarter adjoining the synagogue, an area still known as the Ghetto, and make compulsory payments to the popes.

And in 1943, as Francis noted, over a thousand men, women and children Rome’s Jewish community were deported to Auschwitz.

Paying tribute to the victims and survivors, some of who were in attendance, Francis said that despite all the progress, Christians and Jews must to continue to develop the “unique and special bond” between the two communities.

“From enemies and strangers we have become friends and brothers,” said Francis, who as an archbishop in his native Argentina fostered close relationships with the Jewish community.

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“From a theological point of view, it is clear there is an inseparable bond between Christians and Jews,” he continued, “and the church, while professing salvation through faith in Christ, recognizes the irrevocability of the covenant and God’s constant and faithful love for Israel.”

The question of whether God’s covenant with Israel is still valid — or whether it was supplanted by Jesus, who Christians believe was the Messiah — has been a source of theological debate among Christians and a concern for Jews. Another key point is whether Jews must convert to Christianity.

During his visit John Paul stated, as Francis reiterated on Sunday, that the covenant “had never been revoked,” and last month the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews published a document in which the Holy See said Catholics should not try to convert Jews.

That report followed celebrations last year to mark the 50th anniversary since the signing of an unprecedented document on Catholic-Jewish relations, titled “Nostra Aetate.” The Vatican II text rejected the notion that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, a belief which is said to have contributed to historic persecution of Jews.

It also denounced anti-Semitism and enshrined religious freedom in church doctrine.

But the Vatican decision to develop legal and diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority has also criticism from Israel and many in the Jewish community. The Vatican-Palestinian agreement came into force earlier this month and backs a two-state solution with Israel.

The Pope traveled to Israel and the Holy Land in 2014, just over a year into his papacy, visiting Jerusalem where he prayed at the Western Wall.

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On Sunday, Francis was greeted with applause as he walked into the Great Synagogue and received a standing ovation after stating the importance of remembering the victims of the Holocaust.

Despite the pontiff having to travel just a few minutes from the Vatican to reach Rome’s Jewish quarter, the visit took months of planning and the neighborhood was in lockdown on Sunday. Hundreds of police were brought in to secure the area so that the pontiff could walk freely outside the synagogue and greet members of the Jewish community.

He also paused as flowers were laid by two monuments, one to Holocaust victims who were deported in 1943 and another to a boy who was killed during a terrorist attack on the synagogue in 1982.

The pontiff is well-known for his strong ties to the Jewish community of Buenos Aires and in 2010 published a book with Argentine rabbi Abraham Skorka.

Ahead of Francis’ visit to the synagogue, Skorka highlighted the pope’s “special bond” with the Argentine Jewish community, praising the pontiff’s “profound commitment to relations with it and through it with Judaism as a whole.”

The chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, who also greeted the pope on Sunday, said the occasion came “in a very dramatic moment” for the world.

“There is violence inspired and sustained by distorted visions of religion. What we want to demonstrate is that we can keep our differences, building a better world, not destroying the world,” he told Catholic News Service ahead of the pope’s visit.

(Rosie Scammell covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Rosie Scammell

Rosie Scammell is a British journalist with extensive experience reporting for leading international news organizations. She has been based in Italy since 2012 and covers the Vatican for RNS.


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  • “Every human being, as a creature of God, is our brother, regardless of his or her origin or religious affiliation,” – Pope Francis


    Too bad “The Word of God” disagrees with Pope Francis:

    “the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us…THEY DO NOT PLEASE GOD, and are contrary to all men…for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
    PAUL (1 Thessalonians 2:14)

    I call this incendiary, bigoted anti-semitic hatred and I condemn it.
    Why won’t Christians condemn it? Denounce these epistles.

    in THE SCRIPTURAL WORD OF GOD (an obviously arbitrary designation) if you have decided it isn’t the word of God after all?

    “Avoid them!” – (Romans 16:16)

    So one must choose the wishful Pope or the bigoted Bible.

    Or dispose of both and just be good for goodness sake.

  • The Pope says contrary to God’s Word:
    Catholic Douay Bible says:
    Matthew 23: 37 -39
    “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not? Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate. For I say to you, you shall not see me henceforth till you say: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

  • Ahimsa is the way forward. Violence is no good. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth can only create further disabilities.

  • You are right, Marilyn–the bible can be and has been used to justify all kinds of hatreds; and the result of using the bible that way has been the same, over and over and over again: hatred and more hatred, violence and more violence; and in the case of the Jews, horrible mass murder by people calling themselves Christians.

    Do you seriously believe that’s the message of the bible – of the Gospel of Jesus, whom you quote above; or do you think there may be an alternative way to read and think about that passage and the many passages we use to justify our hatreds?

    That way of reading and using the bible is common enough; but does it point us forward in a way that we want our children to live with? Do you really believe that’s the message of Jesus?

    Surely we’ve seen more than enough violence in the name of Jesus, and can find a way forward without hatred?

  • One more thought, Marilyn: maybe–just maybe–your using biblical text in that way is exactly what the passage is about: maybe you’re stoning one of the prophets.

    Maybe that ancient proverb of the sages is some the best advice of all: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.

  • We are told repeatedly that god’s word never changes. So does god hate the Jews or does God love the Jews.

    tHe New Testament is just jam packed with antisemitism.

    Gods word never changes. Except when it does.

  • Max, you’re a lying sack of….er…..potatoes.

    Every time you post I Thessalonians 2:14 in grotesquely mistranslated form, I correct you. Major modern translations, including the New King James Version, have long made the correction….they base their change on modern scholarship.

    Yet each time I correct you, you go right back to the mistranslation, like a dog returning to its vomit.

    There is one main group of people who do as you do — neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. It’s their favorite mistranslation in the entire Bible. It is very curious that you are following their lead in spreading the hate.

    Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament teach that the Jews were, are, and will forever be God’s people, and that His covenant with them is indeed “irrevocable.” Pope Francis lifted those very words from Paul’s eloquent and powerful attack on anti-Semitism in Romans 11. I believe the Pope is quoting from verse 28.

  • Wrong Marilyn. You cherry-pick Bible verses, found in both the Hebrew Bible & New Testament, where God gets tough on His people — not for being uniquely bad, but for imitating the ways of peoples far worse than they are. People like you, for example.

    But you conveniently leave out the big and final picture, how in the end, God never gives up on his people and keeps His unconditional covenant with them, and promises a glorious future for them.

    You have to be dishonest in the extreme to ignore how, in book after book in the Bible, the ending is one of hope, encouragement, and ultimate reconciliation, no matter how individuals behave.

    To his credit, Pope Francis is rejecting the sordid history of his church in terms of its teachings against the Jews. He is putting the Bible first, and erroneous church teachings last. Like Pope John Paul II and other post-Vatican II pontiffs, he is embracing Biblical facts and reality on this issue.

  • Ben, you are flatly wrong on this….read honestly and without the bigotry of a dejudaized church, it is not anti-Semitic in the least. Part of the problem is a host of glaring mistranslations through the centuries, mistranslations resulting from the erroneous, non-Biblical doctrine of replacement theology.

    The mistranslations were so glaring, in fact, that I’ll bet that if I selected 100 people at random, who knew absolutely nothing about the Bible, and requested that they compare the mistranslations to the corrected translations, and asked them which sounded more logical within a given sentence or verse, all 100 would choose the corrected translation. It is really that bad, that egregious, and that self-evidently inaccurate.

    In other words, the gap between the history of anti-Semitism in Euro-Christendom and the reality of what the NT actually says is simply gargantuan. A failure to address the gap is intellectual dishonesty on parade.

  • Hello, everybody, belivers, unbelivers etc, brothers in Christ !

    I consider you are interested in our Lord Jesus Christ, somehow.

    There is no man without sin, irrespective of nation, language, religion, sex, social position etc.

    Through our faith in The Lord and Saviour Jesus we are given the possibility to become right, sinless.

    “22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,
    23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
    24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.(Romans chapter 3).

    May our Lord Jesus Christ be exalted, every moment !
    May His Heavenly Father be exalted, every moment !
    May The Holy Spirit of Truth, The Comforter be exalted, every moment !
    May The Holy Virgin Mary, Jesus’s Mother be exalted, every moment !
    May all God’s friends be exalted !

  • The Jewish Talmud also contains racist, bigoted and mean-spirited hate passages. What should be do about that? When will the Jews repudiate this book?

  • That is wrong. Pope doesn’t know what are they doing for tearing apart family unit, Christian religion? Christians feel betrayed by this Pope. Didn’t he know anything about this report? It is old enough, 2006, but a man like Pope should know all these . Then why is him taken part in confusing Christians comunity? Is he a Chritisn or he is no more, as many other leaders of non Jewish world. Read this Pope Francis and if you do not understand read all this old report”TheCohenReport.html. Just what you will find inside the report, among others:
    ” In plain Yiddish, the perception of purposelessness lowers pSTC stimulation, consequently lowering altruism (new scientific terminology, but an old game for Jews). Gentiles need to perceive the world around them as lacking order and purpose. They need to step out of the orderly machine that drives them to higher states of evolution and consciousness, and into a world of purposeless individualism.Relax. The circumcised sons of Abraham are on the job.”
    So, what are you doing? Are you leting Christians with no purpose and push them out of their believes just being by themselves, lonely, betrayed. As that Jew says , “Gentiles need to perceive the world around them as lacking order and purpose. They need to step out of the orderly machine that drives them to higher states of evolution and consciousness, and into a world of purposeless individualism.”
    But this is double standard again, Individualism ” is not for Jews, just for the Gentiles(they despise), for Goym, they despise, for Your Christians , Pope Francis. What are you doing?