In a meeting of the International Council of Christians and Jews Tuesday, Pope Francis expressed gratitude for the “friendship and mutual understanding” that characterize relations between Christians and Jews throughout the world.
Francis held up the 1965 document Nostra Aetate, from the Second Vatican Council, as a particularly important milestone for Jewish-Christian dialogue, saying that the text “represents a definitive ‘yes’ to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable ‘no’ to anti-Semitism.”
He also expressed his pleasure that the group had chosen Rome for its annual meeting, noting that in Rome, we find “the most ancient Jewish community in Western Europe, whose origins can be traced to the time of the Maccabees.” Christians and Jews have lived together in Rome for almost two thousand years, he said, “even though their relations in the course of history have not been without difficulty.”
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the landmark Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions. The Pope spoke approvingly of the text, which has borne “rich fruits” in Jewish-Catholic dialogue. “Our fragmented humanity, mistrust and pride have been overcome thanks to the Spirit of Almighty God, in such a way that trust and fraternity between us have continued to grow,” he said.
“We are strangers no more, but friends, and brothers and sisters. Even with our different perspectives, we confess one God, Creator of the Universe and Lord of history,” he said.
Francis told his hearers that all Christians “have Jewish roots,” even though different Christian confessions have approached Judaism in different ways. “The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah,” he said.
What draws Christians and Jews together, the Pope declared, is that both faith traditions “find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word.”
In its reflection on Judaism, Francis said, the Second Vatican Council drew from the ten theses of Seelisberg, formulated in the Swiss town of the same name and closely tied to the founding of the International Council of Christians and Jews.
“We can say that there was already in embryonic form an initial concept of cooperation between your organization and the Catholic Church,” he said.
In his infinite goodness and wisdom, God “always blesses our commitment to dialogue,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.