VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said he knows from personal experience that local dialogue and friendships with Jews enrich participants, helping them grow both as believers and as human beings.
Meeting June 24 with members of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, a coalition of Jewish organizations that engage together in dialogue with the Vatican and other Christian groups, Pope Francis said 40 years of official Catholic-Jewish dialogue have promoted mutual understanding and friendship.
But the official international dialogues are just "the most visible element" of a change in relationships between Catholics and Jews all over the world, "as I know from personal experience," the pope told the 30-member delegation.
Pope Francis told them that as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had the pleasure of "maintaining relations of sincere friendship" with Jewish leaders. They included Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and co-author with the pope of the book, "On Heaven and Earth."
With his Jewish friends, the pope said, "we talked often of our respective religious, the image of man found in the Scriptures, and how to keep an awareness of God alive in a world now secularized in many ways."
"I met with them on various occasions to discuss the challenges which Jews and Christians both face," he said. "But above all, as friends, we enjoyed each other's company, we were all enriched through encounter and dialogue, and we welcomed each other, and this helped all of us grow as people and as believers."
Pope Francis also used the audience as an opportunity to reaffirm the Catholic Church's commitment to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council's document, "Nostrae Aetate," on relations with other religions.
"In that council text," he said, "the church recognizes that 'the beginnings of its faith and election are to be found in the patriarchs, Moses and prophets.'"
The text also "firmly condemned hatred, persecution and all forms of anti-Semitism," the pope said. "Due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!"