Pope, in letter to Jews in Israel, condemns antisemitism as a sin

Pope Francis meets relatives of hostages taken by Hamas militants from Israel Oct. 7 in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican Nov. 22, 2023. Members of the delegation carried posters of their loved ones. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a letter addressed to "my Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel," Pope Francis expressed his heartbreak at the violence unleashed by the Hamas attack on Israel in October and he repeated the Catholic Church's condemnation of all forms of antisemitism and anti-Judaism.

"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 toward Jews and Judaism as a sin against God," said the letter dated Feb. 2 and released by the Vatican the next day.

Pope Francis had met privately Feb. 2 with Raphael Schutz, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See. His letter did not mention the meeting but spoke of "the numerous communications that have been sent to me by various friends and Jewish organizations from all over the world" and "your own letter, which I greatly appreciate."

"Together with you," he said, "we Catholics are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world. We had hoped that 'never again' would be a refrain heard by the new generations, yet now we see that the path ahead requires ever closer collaboration to eradicate these phenomena."

Pope Francis said that his "heart is torn" at the "unprecedented violence" engulfing the Holy Land since the Hamas attack and "the power of so much division and so much hatred."

As he has done repeatedly since October, Pope Francis called on Hamas to release the hostages they still hold, and he expressed sympathy for all those feeling overcome by "anguish, pain, fear and even anger."

"Together with you," the pope wrote, "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."

Still, he said, people must not give up hope for peace, and "we must do everything possible to promote it, rejecting every form of defeatism and mistrust."

"We must look to God, the only source of certain hope," Pope Francis wrote.

In his letter, he quoted from the remarks he had made June 8, 2014, when he hosted Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in the Vatican Gardens for an unprecedented gathering to pray for peace in the Holy Land.

"We do not renounce our responsibilities," he said then, "but we do call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples. We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word 'brother.'"

Pope Francis said he knew many people "have great difficulty seeing a future horizon where light replaces darkness, in which friendship replaces hatred, in which cooperation replaces war," but the current relationship between Catholics and Jews after centuries of oppression and mistrust shows it is possible.

"We must act, starting first and foremost from the Holy Land, where together we want to work for peace and justice, doing everything possible to create relationships capable of opening new horizons of light for everyone, Israelis and Palestinians," the pope said.

Pope Francis ended his letter acknowledging that "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 toward this goal."



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