By Roberto Cetera – Jerusalem
“My heart is close to you, to the Holy Land, to all the peoples who inhabit it, Israelis and Palestinians, and I pray that the desire for peace may prevail in all. I want you to know that you are close to my heart and to the heart of the Church.”
Pope Francis sent those words to “my Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel” in a letter sent to Karma Ben Johanan.
The theologian of Jewish-Christian dialogue was among the promoters in recent weeks of an appeal to the Pope that was signed by about 400 rabbis and scholars, calling for the strengthening of Jewish-Christian friendship after the tragedy of October 7.
“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.”
These were the Israeli theologian’s words of sincere appreciation for the Pope’s letter, expressed to L’Osservatore Romano on Saturday in Jerusalem.
In his letter dated February 2, the Pope recalled that the Holy Land is unfortunately not excluded from the turmoil that grips the world and which constitutes a true “piecemeal world war,” which is causing widespread “apprehension and pain.”
Pope Francis noted that the ongoing war has “produced attitudes of division in global public opinion, which sometimes results in forms of antisemitism and anti-Judaism.”
“I can only reiterate that (…) the relationship that binds us to you is particular and singular, without ever obscuring, naturally, the relationship that the Church has with others and the commitment towards them, too,” said the Pope. “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,” expressing his hopes for “ever closer collaboration to eradicate these phenomena.”
Referring to the letter delivered to him by the rabbis and scholars of Jewish-Christian dialogue, the Pope said he greatly appreciated it.
“I feel the desire to assure you of my closeness and affection. I embrace each of you, and especially those who are consumed by anguish, pain, fear and even anger,” and adds: “Together with you, we mourn the dead, the wounded, the traumatized, begging God the Father to intervene and put an end to war and hatred.”
The Pope said he understands that in these times of desolation it is difficult to see “a future horizon where light replaces darkness, in which friendship replaces hatred (…) However, we, as Jews and Catholics, are witnesses to precisely such a horizon.”
He concluded his letter by expressing his hope that all might work for peace.
“We still have a lot to do together to ensure that the world we leave to those who come after us is a better one but I am sure that we will be able to continue to work together towards this goal.”
Expressing her gratitude to the Pope, Karma Ben Johanan welcomed Pope Francis’s invitation.
“We are ready to collaborate so that hatred and violence are eliminated and the doors are opened to true peace for all of us who live in this land: Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” she said. “We join Christians in the belief that religions can be a creative force capable of opening paths that would otherwise remain closed.”