SPEECH FOR THE VISIT OF POPE BENEDICT XVI . JANUARY 17, 2010
With the permission of all my Teachers and Rabbis here today.
Ihave the honor of extending to you, Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome, the greetings of the Jewish Community of Rome for your today’s welcome visit, dedicated to Jewish-Christian dialogue and for celebrating with our Community the Moed di Piombo.
I would also like to greet all the religious, civil, and military authorities, the public here today and all those who are watching.
Beruchim Ha-baim. Welcome.
Today’s event will have a deep impact on relations between the Jewish and Christian worlds, not only from a religious point of view, but most of all for the effect we hope it will have on civil society.
Our community is the oldest in the Western Diaspora. It is vivacious, vigorous, proud of its history, and increasingly observant of its laws and traditions. Over the last ten years, its schools have seen a constant rise in number of students. This is a community that – over the centuries, and especially after 1870 –have given its contribution to the cultural, economic and artistic growth not only of our city, but of our entire country. We fought for the unity of Italy and defended our country during the First World War. This community contributed to the Resistance in the Second World War and has provided political leaders and Nobel Prize winners. We are the heirs of political leaders such as Ernesto Nathan – Mayor of Rome at the beginning of the 20th century – defenders of the secular nature of our national institutions. We have always been, at the same time, aware that the sense of the secular must never be in opposition to the contribution that moneteistc religions can give to the most important debates of the society in which we live.
Our vitality is demonstrated by the fifteen synagogues in Rome’s capital city, more than twice the number that existed in 1986. The most recent of these is Shirat HaYam, which was opened six months ago in Ostia.
First, we feel obliged to acknowledge that our Chief Rabbi Emeritus, Prof. Elio Toaff, whom I greet with affection, and Pope John Paul II, whom we recall with deep respect, understood how much cooperation between people of our to religions would, from Rome, realize hopes and bring dreams to life.
In his historic greetings to Pope John Paul II in 1986, Rabbi Toaff expressed the hope for a common effort against Apartheid in South Africa and for religious freedom in the former Soviet Union. The two situations have been happily resolved.
At the same time, my predecessor, Prof. Giacomo Saban, who is here today, expressed his hopes for the creation of diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Vatican State. That dream came true in 1993. The presence of the Vice Prime Minister of Israel Silvan Shalom and our friends, Ambassador Mordechai Levy and Gideon Meir, is proof of how greatly Jews in the Diaspora and Israel appreciate and agree with these relations.
For the Jews, the State of Israel is the fruit of a common history and an unbreakable bond, one that is a basic part of our culture and tradition. This is a right that everyone who acknowledges the Sacred Scriptures knows is given to the People of Israel.
Today, our thoughts and prayers go to the young soldier Gilad Shalit, honorary citizen of Rome, who has been a prisoner for 1302 days and whose liberation we are waiting for.
I wish to underline with gratitude that you are the first Bishop of Rome who has paid homage to the memorial plaque of the child Stefano Gay Tachè z.l., and acknowledged that the Synagogue of Rome was the scene of a brutal attach by Palestinian terrorism.
The time has come to work towards new aspirations.
We would like to express our solidarity against the unthinkable acts of violence that increasingly take place against Christian communities in some countries of Asia and Africa. We have the sensation that the West does not express its indignation strongly enough. The pressure on the governments of countries that forbid the construction of a church or a synagogue should be more energetic. We have to keep watch to ensure that the basic rights of women and religious freedom of everybody are safeguarded with democracy and liberty.
More than a million Jews were forced to escape or were expelled from Arab countries, some of which do not tolerate Christians today. In 1967, nearly 5000 Jews were forced to flee from Libya, and most of them found refuge in Rome. At the time, our community showed its capacity to welcome and integrate this new presence, a gift of vitality and vivacity.
Iwould also like to express our great appreciation for the courageous position you took on immigration. We, who were freed of slavery in the land of Egypt – as the first Commandment recalls – are at your side to ensure that this issue is tackoed with justice.
We can and must fight against fear and suspicion, selfishness and indifference. We need to reinforce a culture of welcome and solidarity, altruism and the desire to understand others. We must act against xenophobic, racist ideologies that feed prejudice, and we must help people understand that the new immigrants come to live in this continent to live in peace and achieve a prosperity that will have a positive impact for all of society. Let us remember, in accordance with our common traditions, that every human being is made in the image and likeness of the Creator.
We are concerned about Muslim fundamentalism. Men and women armed with hate and guided and financed by terrorist organizations are seeking our cultural and physical annihilation. And this religious fanaticism is also supported by sovereign states.
Among these states, there are some that are developing nuclear technology for military purposes, planning the destruction of the State of Israel and the resulting extermination of the Jews with the ultimate intention of blackmailing the free world.
For that reason, we must seek solidarity with the forces of Islam that interpret the Koran as a source of human solidarity and fraternity, respecting the sacredness of life. Some of these Muslim leaders are here in this Synagogue today and I am happy to welcome them with warmth and affection.
History also weighs heavily on this encounter today, with wounds that are still open and that we cannot ignore. For that reason, we also look with great respect on those who have decided not to join us here today.
You paid homage at Largo 16 Ottobre, the scene of the infamous round-up of the Jews on October 16, 1943. I hereby take the occasion to greet with great emotion and pride the survivors of the Shoah who are here today.
Zachor et asher asa lecha Amalek- Remember what Amalek did to you – is written in Deuteronomy, chapter 25, verse 17.
We, the second and third generation after the Shoah, who grew up in freedom, feel the responsibility of Remembrance even more. The person speaking to you is the son of Emanuele Pacifici and grandson of the Chief Rabbi of Genoa Riccardo Pacifici z.l., who died at Auschwitz with his wife Wanda. The fact that I am here speaking to you in this holy place is because my father and my uncle Raffaele z.l. found refuge in the Convent of the Nuns of Saint Martha in Florence.
Our debt of thanks to that religious institution is immense and our relationship with the nuns of our generation continues. The State of Israel has conferred the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations to them.
This is not a unique case in Italy or in other parts of Europe. Numerous members of monasteries and convents risked their lives to save thousands of Jews from a certain death, asking for nothing in return.
For that reason, the silence of Pius XII in the face of the Shoah still gives us pain, as an unfulfilled act. He might not have stopped the death trains, but he would have transmitted a signal, a word of final comfort and human solidarity, to our brothers and sisters who were being taken to the ovens of Auschwitz.
While we await a common judgment, we hope – with the greatest respect – that historians be given access to the Vatican archives that document that period and the events following the fall of Nazi Germany.
The pontificates from Pope John XXIII’s to Pope John Paul II’s included numerous gestures and acts of reconciliation. From Nostra Aetate to your visit to Israel and Yad Vashem, these acts are testimony that the dialogue between Jews and Catholics – while at times difficult – can and must continue.
It would be wonderful if your visit could give further impetus to the work of knowledge and divulgation of the immense patrimony of books and documents produced by Jews that are housed in the Vatican libraries and archives.
Let us open our hearts and leave this historic encounter with a message of solidarity. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our children, so that we can leave them with an important legacy and help them in meeting others as individuals.
This is our way of understanding the dialogue between religions. That way we will have children, of one faith and the other, sure and conscious of their own traditions, open to an exchange of ideas – in diversity – as a common treasure for a society that defines itself as free and just.
Shalom to all of you.
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