The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) and Pope Francis met for the first time Monday, as a CER delegation visited Vatican City.
“The Vatican and the Catholic establishment in general have been supportive from day one in our fights for shechitah and milah, and other effects of secular backlash against religious freedoms,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of CER and Chief Rabbi of Moscow, told Hamodia. “We wanted to thank the new pope for the support that they have given against terror attacks and religious freedom. We have common interests and hope to work closely in the future. It was a symbolic visit, but we hope for it to bring real results.”
The delegation included Rabbi Haim Korsia, Chief Rabbi of France; Rabbi Albert Guigui, Chief Rabbi of Belgium; Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Senior Rabbi of the Spanish Portuguese Congregation of Great Britain; Rabbi Joshua Spinner, head of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary of Berlin and CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, and several other members and supporters of CER.
In his address at the meeting, Rabbi Goldschmidt spoke of the dual threat felt by Jews in Europe.
“On one hand, our synagogues, our schools, our museums, our elderly and youth are being attacked and killed by radicalized immigrants from the Middle East in many Western European countries,” he said. “‘Old Europe’ backlashed with a broadside attack against Islam… But while Islam might be the primary target of the latest xenophobic European campaigns against circumcision and ritual slaughter, European Jewry is the ‘collateral damage.’”
The meeting was also intended to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican’s declaration regarding its view of other religious groups. Among its most important elements was a statement dropping its centuries-old view of ideologies that officially sanctioned anti-Semitism. This major doctrinal change opened the door to dialogue and partnering with Jews as well as other non-Catholic groups.
“Anti-Semitic trends in Europe these days are troubling, as are certain acts of hatred and violence,” said Pope Francis in his statement at the event. “Every Christian must be firm in deploring all forms of anti-Semitism, and in showing their solidarity with the Jewish people.”
The pope also discussed the threats of a Europe “increasingly marked by secularism and threatened by atheism.”
“Many of the challenges facing Jews in Europe today,” said Rabbi Spinner, “are more universal in nature than ever before. Most notably, the aggressive secularism of European political culture often threatens the church and other religious communities as much as, l’havdil, us. This creates interesting and effective alliances. For example, the Catholic church was highly supportive of the Jewish community when we fought to preserve the right to bris milah in Germany several years ago, and occasions like the papal audience with the CER serve to emphasize the common cause we increasingly find in today’s Europe.”