The visit of the Pope

Yesterday was an important day at Portico di Ottavia, in Rome: the world today knows a little bit better since yesterday that peace harmony and cohabitation are pursuable among different religions despite the plague of terrorism that persecutes Jews, Christians and Muslims too.

Aware of the complexity of their task, the Catholic Pope Francis and the Jewish Chief Rabbi Di Segni tried to chart the course for a lasting and stable friendship between their peoples. For the Jews, this is the year 5776, an affectionate and possessive computation dating back to the birth of the world, the time when the Bible says everything started.

Certainly the Pope was aware, as he crossed the stone threshold of the Jewish Synagogue greeted by a friendly crowd of people, that the eyes of four thousand years of the difficult story of Abraham were watching him.

A visit to the Jewish people by such an influential and powerful figure as that of the Pope must have fateful accents, as happened with his predecessors: it is in fact the third time that a Catholic Pope visits the Synagogue. The first was by Pope John Paul in 1986, the second by Pope Benedict in 2010, and every time the challenges of the period were different in the attempt to stitch up a long and wide, blood-red rip darkened by hate. Slowly friendship can be built again, and even today this is the main meaning of the visit: building trust and fighting prejudice.

The Jews are a fundamental people for the history of religion and humanity, it’s deeds have for the Christians not only theological but also moral and civil meanings. Pope Francis with his visit has tried to continue building a positive relationship showing a very affectionate attitude, speaking of emotional issues like Stefano Taché, the baby killed by terrorist in front of the Synagogue, and of the Shoah. He also repeated the affectionate expression of “elder brothers” first used by Pope John Paul.

The people encountered by the Pope is at the centre of a wonderful adventure on the one hand, and on the other of a concentric attack motivated primarily by jihadism. This attack goes together with an heinous unexpected wave of anti-Semitism. Last night, once back in the Vatican, the Pope has certainly meditated on the feeling that he perceived from the Jewish public in the Synagogue.

The wonderful adventure is called Israel, and the Jewish people are still proud and equally enthusiastic and concerned about finally reaching, after two thousand years of exile, its own State, this beacon of democracy and civilisation besieged by autocratic and aggressive worlds. Maybe, if Pope Francis has perceived it (perhaps in the speech by the president of the roman community Ruth Dureghello), the Catholic Church might cease to lean towards a third-worlder interpretation that is mirrored by the pro-Palestinian approach of the Catholic press.

Despite the fact that diplomatic and formal relations have progressed considerably, Jerusalem still awaits the fundamental acknowledgement of its moral positivity by the Christian public opinion. An actually, it’s a pity: because It is legitimately possible to aspire to peace with the Palestinians while acknowledging the fact that Israel is the only democratic state that defends the Christians while they are being persecuted throughout the rest of the Middle East.

It is possible to prohibit the continuing racist slander of the Jews, the Palestinian incitement substantiated by the programs in the schools and by its official television; it is possible to condemn the wave of terrorism that the Jewish population is suffering in Israel and throughout the world. “Israel” and “Jew” must be named clearly when speaking about the plague of terrorism by the westerner, and therefore Christian public opinion.

The Pope has met a Jewish world that is astonished by the phenomenon that should no longer be tainting Europe: a kind of anti-Semitism that kills, that forces people to hide their kippà, that leads to an intense emigration, a veritable flight, towards Israel.

Anti-Semitic extremism has been given free rein, and in its wake come the movements boycotting Israel, the BDS, the absurd and defamatory accusations that introduce the idea of an outcast Jew together with that of an outcast Israel.

This wounded world is the one the Pope,thanks to his visit, now knows: certainly he felt it requires even a better care, for instance by not allowing the propagandistic disgusting but smart denial that Jesus was a Jew, while pushing the historically absurd invention that Jesus was Palestinian. The consequence of these falsities is the ingraining of the idea that the Jews do not have legitimate roots in their homeland, Israel.

The people who yesterday welcomed the Pope are the first in history to have invented the precept “love thy neighbour as thyself”; indeed, the words of the Christian ‘Our Father’ prayer are taken from those of the Jewish one.

Catholics should take on as an inviolable moral rule that of loving the miracle of Israel and of honouring its presence in the world. Today there is no longer time or space for delaying this universal task. This visit, if the Pope keeps it close to his heart, may make a difference.

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (January 18, 2016)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.