On Sunday afternoon, Pope Francis became the third pontiff to visit the Major Temple in Rome, the most important synagogue in the city, 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.
The Pope was welcomed by the President of the Jewish Community of Rome, Ruth Dureghello, the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), Renzo Gattegna, and the President of the Holocaust Foundation Museum, Mario Venice.
“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.”
The Pope addressed the sufferings of the Jewish community of Rome, and their participation in the horrors of Nazi death camps.
“On October 16, 1943, over a thousand men, women and children in the Jewish community of Rome were deported to Auschwitz,” Francis said. “Today I wish to offer a particularly heartfelt remembrance: their sufferings, their anguish, their tears must never be forgotten. And the past should serve as a lesson for the present and for the future.”
“The Holocaust teaches us that the utmost vigilance is always necessary, so as to intervene immediately in defense of human dignity and peace,” he said. “I would like to express my closeness to each witness of the Holocaust still living, and I address a special greeting to those of you who are here today.”
At this point in his speech, the congregation rose up to offer Pope Francis the first of two standing ovations, the second of which came at the very end of his address.
When Saint John Paul II visited Rome’s major synagogue in 1986, he became the first Pope since the first century to ever set foot in a synagogue. Pope Benedict also visited the Roman synagogue in 2010, establishing the event as a tradition.
Citing John Paul on Sunday, Pope Francis told the Jewish community: “You are our older brothers and sisters,” while also reiterating his condemnation of “every injury, discrimination and persecution that stem from anti-Semitism.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome