VISIT OF POPE BENEDICT XVI TO THE SYNAGOGUE OF ROME
I would like to greet and thank all our friends and all the civil and religious authorities who are present for their participation.
As representative of the twenty-one Italian Jewish communities, I would like to extend our sincerest welcome to Pope Benedict XVI and our best wishes to you personally and for the success of your High Office.
Your presence here in this Synagogue raises strong emotions in our souls and stimulates our minds to consider and evaluate how far we have come over recent decades.
Your visit to the Synagogue of Rome is closely tied to that of your predecessor, Pope John Paul II, on April 13, 1986.
These two important events are the fulfillment of that new course in relations between Jews and Catholics that started 50 years ago, promoted by Pope John XXIII, the first person to understand that constructive dialogue and an encounter in a spirit of reconciliation could only take place with the premise of equal dignity and reciprocal respect.
These principles were solemnly affirmed in the declaration Nostra Aetate, conceived and desired by Pope John XXIII, and promulgated on October 28, 1965 by the Vatican Council II.
That was the beginning of the development of dialogue between Jews and Christians, aimed at identifying common objectives for the future. It was also aimed at eliminating misunderstanding and divergences for which, the Jews paid a terribly high price in the centuries past, in terms of human lives and suffering, for their strong determination to remain true to their principles and values.
The noble speech you delivered in February 2009 remains indelible in our memories. At that time, announcing your decision to visit Israel, you recalled the words that your predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla, spoke in March 2000 at the Western Wall of Jerusalem, asking the Lord’s forgiveness for all the injustice that the Jewish people suffered, and promising to work for authentic brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.
I take the liberty of remembering your words today because there are people with us who, despite their advanced age, wanted to take part in this encounter. They have all our respect, admiration, and affection: in 1943 and 1944 they were deported to the Nazi death camps and were among the very few to survive. I believe that they above all, those who knew the horror of the concentration camps, were the true recipients of the words you spoke. They are still the focus of our thoughts.
Our generation, which survived the Shoah, and had the good fortune to witness the millennia-long hope for the reconstruction of the State of Israel become reality, is ready to face the coming challenges. The main challenge will be to help establish respect of fundamental human rights for everyone in the world so that diversity will never again be the cause of ideological or religious conflicts, but rather bring mutual cultural and moral enrichment.
The new season is only the beginning of a long journey, but it will be easier if we give the proper content and meaning to the splendid term “brothers” with which our predecessors greeted each other twenty-four years ago, promising to build precious relations of friendship.
It is with great affection that I greet Chief Rabbi Emeritus Prof. Elio Toaff and the then President of the Community of Rome, Prof. Giacomo Saban, who is here today. I would like to express all our gratitude for the wisdom and foresight they used in guiding us. In addition, my sincerest homage goes to the memory of Pope John Paul II.
I would like to again thank you for accepting our invitation. Your presence is a great honor and a renewed commitment to continue along the path we have chosen. This path must be pursued together by Jews, Christians and Moslems, as we are here today, so that we can discover our common heritage, bear witness to the One God and, despite the differences that will remain, inaugurate an era of peace.
Shalom to all of you.
Rome, January 17, 2010
President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities
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