At a meeting with members of Rome's Jewish community, Pope Francis denounced anti-Semitism and recalled the 1943 deportation of more than 1,000 of the city's Jews to the most notorious Nazi death camp -- an incident that has proven a major source of tension between the papacy and Jewish leaders.
"It's a contradiction for a Christian to be
anti-Semitic, his roots are in part Jewish," the pope said Oct 11. "May
anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and the life of every man and
Pope Francis gave a delegation led by Rabbi Riccardo
Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, a message commemorating the 70th
anniversary of the deportation of Rome's Jews Oct. 16, 1943. Of the more
than 1,000 people sent to Auschwitz by the German occupiers that day,
just 16 eventually returned.
"While we return in memory to those
tragic hours of October 1943, it is our duty to keep before our eyes the
destiny of those deportees," the pope wrote. "To imagine their fear,
their pain, their desperation, so as not to forget them, to keep them
alive in our memory and in our prayer, along with their families, their
relatives and friends who mourned their loss and who remain disheartened
by the depths of barbarity to which humankind can sink."
Francis voiced hopes that memory of the atrocity would inspire "new
generations not to allow themselves to fall into line, not to let
themselves be caught up by ideologies, never to justify the evil they
encounter, and not to lower their guard against anti-Semitism and
against racism, regardless of where they are from."
In his spoken
remarks, the pope said "this anniversary also reminds us how the
Christian community has known how to reach out to its brothers in
difficulty during their darkest hours."
Jewish leaders and a
number of historians have criticized the wartime Pope Pius XII for not
speaking out against the deportations. When Pope Benedict XVI visited
Rome's main synagogue in January 2010, he heard the president of Rome's
Jewish community lament the "silence of Pius XII." A prominent Italian
rabbi boycotted that event to protest Pope Benedict's decision to make
Pope Pius eligible for beatification.
But Pope Francis noted
that the "Papal Basilicas, in accordance with the wishes of the pope,"
were among the church institutions that "opened their doors to provide a
fraternal welcome" to Jews fleeing the Nazis.
"I like to
underline this aspect," Pope Francis said, "because while it is true
that it is important for both sides to deepen their theological
reflection through dialogue, it is also true that there exists a vital
dialogue, that of everyday experience, that is no less fundamental."
pope recalled his own warm relations with Jews as archbishop of Buenos
Aires, where he celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah in local
synagogues and co-authored a book with a prominent rabbi. Pope Francis
said he hoped to "contribute here in Rome, as bishop, to this closeness