Pope Francis made his first visit to a synagogue as Pope yesterday, greeting Rome’s Jewish community in their house of worship in a show of inter-faith friendship.
Francis joined a standing ovation when Holocaust survivors wearing striped scarves reminiscent of their camp uniforms were singled out for attention at the start of the ceremony.
He began his visit by laying a wreath at a plaque outside the synagogue marking where Roman Jews were rounded up by the Nazis in 1943 and at another marking the slaying of a two-year-old boy in 1982 in an attack by Palestinians on the place of worship.
He met with members of the boy’s family and survivors of the attack before entering the synagogue, the seat of the oldest Jewish community in the diaspora.
The visit comes amid a spate of Islamic extremist attacks in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere, and Francis was expected to denounce all violence committed in the name of God.
“The hatred that comes from racism and bias or worse which uses God’s name or words to kill deserves our contempt and our firm condemnation,” Ruth Dureghello, president of the Rome’s Jewish community, said in introductory remarks.
Francis’s visit is meant to continue the tradition of papal visits that began with St John Paul II in 1986 and continued with Benedict XVI in 2010. It also highlighted the 50th anniversary of the landmark shift in Christian-Jewish relations that was represented by the Second Vatican Council.
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