RELIGION

Pope Stresses Christian-Jewish Unity Amid Antisemitism Surge and Gaza Conflict

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Reiterating the Catholic Church’s denunciation of all manifestations of antisemitism while reaffirming the historic ties among Christians and Jews, Pope Francis has expressed his sorrow to “my Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel” for the violence stemming from the October 7 attack in the country by the Palestinian group Hamas.

“The path that the Church has walked with you, the ancient people of the covenant, rejects every form of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, unequivocally condemning manifestations of hatred towards Jews and Judaism as a sin against God,” the leader of the Roman Catholic Church wrote in a February 2 letter addressed to Jews in Israel.

“My heart is torn at the sight of what is happening in the Holy Land, by the power of so much division and so much hatred,’’ the pope added in his letter, which the Vatican released February 3. “The whole world looks on at what is happening in that land with apprehension and pain. These are feelings that express special closeness and affection for the peoples who inhabit the land which has witnessed the history of revelation.”

The letter was sent to Karma Ben Johanan, a religion scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who specializes in Jewish-Christian relations. She was part of a group of advocates behind an appeal to Francis signed by some 400 rabbis and scholars, aimed at enhancing Jewish-Christian camaraderie in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks.

In a response to the pontiff’s letter, Johanan told L’Osservatore Romano, a Vatican daily: “We are deeply grateful for the trust and spirit of friendship with which the Pope, and with him the entire Church, has sought to reaffirm the special relationship that unites our communities, Catholic and Jewish.”  

The letter served as a delayed effort to repair relations after Francis faced criticism for his initial response to the Hamas attacks, the Associated Press reported. Francis had remarked that the Holy Land had been plunged into a cycle of unprecedented violence, which he described as part of what he termed as “a sort of ‘piecemeal world war,’ with serious consequences on the lives of many populations.” 

The pope sparked controversy in November by using the term “terrorism” in a general sense following separate meetings with relatives of Israeli hostages in Gaza and Palestinians enduring the conflict.  

Jewish leaders criticized Francis for not explicitly condemning the Hamas attack, and they reacted strongly after some Palestinians reported that he had used the term “genocide” to describe Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The Vatican denied the Pope had used the term “genocide” in the private meeting with Palestinians, but since then, Francis has been more restrained in his remarks and has unequivocally condemned the Hamas attacks. 

“In the light of the numerous communications that have been sent to me by various friends and Jewish organizations from all over the world … I feel the desire to assure you of my closeness and affection,” Francis wrote in his letter. “I embrace each of you, and especially those who are consumed by anguish, pain, fear and even anger.” 

“Together with you,” the Pope added, “we mourn the dead, the wounded, the traumatized, begging God the Father to intervene and put an end to war and hatred, to these incessant cycles that endanger the entire world.”

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