VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In his four-day apostolic visit to Hungary and Slovakia Sept. 12-15, Pope Francis stressed the importance of Catholic-Jewish relations, which were recently called into question after the pope suggested Jewish law was obsolete.
“Jews and Christians alike, you strive to view one another no longer as strangers but as friends, no longer as foes but as brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis told Christian representatives and members of the Jewish community in Hungary at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest on Sunday.
The pope also offered his “best wishes” for the Jewish celebrations of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which he called “moments of grace and a summons to spiritual renewal.”
Francis implored faithful of all religions to “leave behind our past misunderstandings” in order to promote fraternity and peace. He also urged Jewish and Christian faith leaders to come together to combat antisemitism, “a fuse that must not be allowed to burn.”
In late August, the chair of the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for Dialogue with the Holy See, Rabbi Rasson Arousi, sent a letter to the Vatican criticizing comments Pope Francis made about the Torah during his general audience prayer on Aug. 11.
The Torah “does not offer the fulfillment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfill it,” the pope said, adding that “those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfillment in Christ.”
In his letter to the Vatican, initially reported by Reuters, Arousi warned the pope’s comments risked rekindling the “teaching of contempt,” when Catholics accused Jews for Christ’s passion and death.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which sought to renew the Catholic Church, rejected antisemitic beliefs and promoted dialogue with the Jewish community.
In Slovakia, Pope Francis once again spoke to the Jewish community, this time at the Shoah memorial at Rybné námestie square in Bratislava, which commemorates the killing of more than 105,000 Jews by the Nazis.
“Dear brothers and sisters, your history is our history, your sufferings are our sufferings,” the pope said on Monday, after having heard the witness of a man who survived deportation.
“In this place, our histories meet once more,” the pope said. “Here let us affirm together before God our willingness to persevere on the path of reconciliation and friendship.”
Last Friday, Reuters reported that the Vatican issued a written response to Arousi’s criticism of Pope Francis’ comments, which specified that his words referred to the writings of St. Paul in a historical context.
“In his catechesis the Holy Father does not make any mention of modern Judaism; the address is a reflection on (St. Paul’s) theology within the historical context of a given era,” wrote Cardinal Kurt Koch, who heads the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
“The fact that the Torah is crucial for modern Judaism is not questioned in any way,” he added.
Koch denied the pope “is returning to a so-called ‘doctrine of contempt'” and underlined Francis’ respect for Judaism and his efforts “to deepen the bonds of friendship between the two faith traditions.”
Pope Francis, like his predecessors, has visited synagogues and concentration camps. He has also cultivated a friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka in his native country of Argentina.