VATICAN CITY (CNS) — European Christians and Jews must stand together in witnessing to faith in God and in defending one another from discrimination and persecution around the world, Pope Francis said.
Pope Francis met April 20 with a 30-member delegation of the Conference of European Rabbis in anticipation of the 50th anniversary in October of “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with the Jews, Muslims and other religions.
“Today, in Europe, it is more important than ever to emphasize the spiritual and religious dimension of human life,” the pope said.
“In a society increasingly marked by secularism and threatened by atheism, we run the risk of living as if God did not exist,” the pope said. But Christians and Jews know “God is holy, and the life he has given is holy and inviolable.”
Condemning new waves of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, Pope Francis noted the 70th anniversary last January of “the liberation of Auschwitz, the concentration camp which has come to be synonymous with the great tragedy of the Shoah.”
“The memory of what took place there, in the heart of Europe, is a warning to present and future generations,” the pope said.
“Acts of hatred and violence against Christians and the faithful of other religions must likewise be condemned everywhere,” the pope said.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow and president of the conference, told the pope, “We express our deepest sympathy, prayers and support for the Christians in the Middle East.”
The Jewish community, he said, appreciates Nostra Aetate’s “rejection of every persecution against any man,” its recognition of the spiritual patrimony Jews and Christians share and its condemnation of “displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
And he, like the pope, spoke of the importance of reminding Europeans of God’s existence and of traditional religious values.
“Who would have thought even 25 years ago that the East will become the defender of traditional religious values while the West has embraced a secularism which moves it away from its Judeo-Christian heritage,” he said.
Coming from Russia, the rabbi said, he could not help but mention the continuing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the situation of refugees it is creating and the economic hardships that are spreading.
Rabbi Goldschmidt said he thought Pope Francis was in a unique position “to be God’s emissary to help build new bridges and bring the East and the West back from the brink of war, to a unified and peaceful Europe and the world.”