On a world day of commemoration of the Shoah, Pope Francis spoke of the history of the people of Israel and God’s special bond of love toward them.
In his weekly audience Wednesday, Pope Francis compared God’s love for the Jewish people to that of a father toward his son, or a man toward his wife. “Through His servant Moses, God leads Israel in the wilderness as he would a son; he educates them in the faith and makes a covenant with them, creating a strong bond of love, like that of a father with his son or groom with his bride,” he said.
January 27 marks the “Day of Remembrance” to commemorate that same date in 1945 when the allies liberated the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and revealed to the world the horror that transpired there. It is celebrated to remember the Shoah, the holocaust of the Jewish people.
In his address, the Pope spoke of the singularity of God’s love for Israel, in setting the people apart as his own special possession.
God offers the Jewish people “a special, exclusive, privileged relationship of love,” Francis said. And when giving instructions to Moses regarding the covenant, God tells him: “Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine.”
Of course, Francis noted, God already owns all the earth because it is his creation; but the people of Israel “become for him a different, special possession: his personal ‘reserves of gold and silver,’” Francis said.
In his Lenten message for 2016, which the Vatican published Tuesday, the Pope wrote that “the mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel.”
Continuing his ongoing reflections on the mercy of God during this Jubilee Year, Francis drew inspiration from the history of God’s compassion on the Jewish people.
“God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth,” he said.
The covenant between God and Israel is “a true love story,” Francis said, “in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride.”
“These domestic images,” he said, “show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people.”
Earlier this month Pope Francis visited Rome’s most important synagogue, and was met with a standing ovation after he recalled the sufferings of the Jewish people at the Holocaust and offered special recognition to Holocaust survivors.
The Pope delivered his speech before numerous members of the Jewish community in Rome, as well as other European and Israeli representatives, who applauded spontaneously on 18 different occasions during the address. The most forceful and lasting, taking the form of a long, standing ovation, came in response to the pontiff’s remembrance of Holocaust victims and survivors.
“During their history the Jewish people have had to experience violence and persecution, even to the extermination of European Jews during the Holocaust,” Francis said.
“Six million individuals, simply because they belonged to the Jewish people, were victims of the most inhuman atrocities perpetrated in the name of an ideology that sought to replace God with man,” he said.
Citing his predecessor Pope John Paul, Francis told the Jewish community: “You are our older brothers and sisters,” and forcefully reiterated his condemnation of “every injury, discrimination and persecution that stem from anti-Semitism.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome