Pope Francis met this week with representatives of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, or IJCIC. This meeting, so early in his papacy, is seen as a positive sign for Jewish-Vatican relations. It is perhaps not surprising, though, as Pope Francis has a strong track record of good relations with the Jewish community in his hometown of Buenos Aires.
The IJCIC is the historical representative of the international Jewish community in Vatican relations. Meetings between the IJCIC and church representatives have been going on for over forty years.
The Pope began his address to the IJCIC with the words, “Dear elder brothers and sisters, Shalom,” reiterating the Vatican’s commitment to the Nostra Aetate document of Vatican II. He explained that due to the common roots of the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets, “a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic.”
Pope Francis praised his predecessors for their efforts in improving Jewish-Catholic relations and upholding the Nostra Aetate document. He added that his first-hand experience of friendship with Jewish leaders in Argentina is echoed in many places around the world, and these friendships serve as “the basis for the development of a more official dialogue.” He spoke, too, of the common goals of Catholics and Jews:
“Humanity needs our joint witness in favor of respect for the dignity of man and woman created in the image and likeness of God, and in favor of peace which is above all God’s gift. As the prophet Jeremiah said, ‘I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future of hope’ (29:11).”
Prof. Lawrence H Schiffman, Chair of the IJCIC, addressed the Church on behalf of the committee. He, too, spoke of the Pope’s well-known friendship with the Jewish community of Buenos Aires. He thanked him for his support to the Jewish community after the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994. He also mentioned the Pope’s stated commitment to publicise the Vatican record on Pope Pius XII by 2014. he closed by saying, “…now that some of us have been together three times, once in Buenos Aires and twice in Rome, that in Jewish law three occasions is sufficient to constitute a hazakah, a presumption; in this case, a presumption of close friendship to which we look forward and for which we thank you.”