ROME (JTA) – Pope Francis told Jewish leaders that Catholics and Jews are “bound by a very special spiritual bond.”
The new pontiff on Wednesday also pledged to foster the interfaith dialogue begun with the Nostra Aetate decree of the Second Vatican Council.
“I thank you for your presence and trust that with the help of the Almighty, we can continue that fruitful fraternal dialogue that the Council wished for,” he said. “And that it is actually achieved, bringing many fruits, especially during the last decades.”
Francis made the remarks during an audience with the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jain and non-Catholic Christian delegations that had attended his inauguration a day earlier.
He said the Catholic Church was “aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions. This I wish to repeat: the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions.”
Among the dozen Jewish leaders in attendance were Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni; Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League; Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of Interreligious Affairs; and Claudio Epelman, the executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, with whom Francis also had a private audience.
“There is no doubt that Catholic-Jewish relations will go from strength to even greater strength during Pope Francis’ pontificate," said Rosen, who is among the few Jews to have received a papal knighthood.
Di Segni sat next to the pope during the encounter. According to the Rome Jewish news site Shalom7, when Francis and Di Segni exchanged personal greetings, the pontiff joked that he had “gotten a lot of information” about Di Segni and saw that he was “very active on Facebook.”
Shalom7 said Di Segni greeted the pontiff’s reference to social media “with a smile.” There are numerous Italian Jewish Facebook pages that feature news and other updates.