October will mark 52 years since the promulgation of Nostra Aetete, a Papal declaration that exonerated the Jewish people of the millennial charge of deicide leveled against them by the Catholic Church. A World Jewish Congress delegation led by President Ronald S. Lauder had met with the Pope on the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking declaration, in which the Pope affirmed that "Attacks on Jews are anti-Semitism, as are attacks on Israel.
Ahead of the upcoming anniversary, a delegation of Jewish groups met with Pope Francis and presented a document that called "upon the Church to join us in deepening our combat against our generation's new barbarism, namely the radical offshoots of Islam, which endanger our global society and does not spare the very numerous moderate Muslims,” Haaretz reported.
Signed by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, the Conference of European Rabbis and the Rabbinical Council of America, the document, the document added that radical Islam, "threatens world peace in general and the Christian and Jewish communities in particular," the response states. "We call on all people of good will to join forces to fight this evil.”
Nostra Aetete, which marked a sea change in Jewish-Catholic relations and led to the opening of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and the state of Israel, also prohibited evangelizing Jews.
“True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today... Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures,” that document read.
In the response presented to the Pope this week, the Orthodox Jewish groups expressed thanks for that policy change, stating that they "understand that [the church] has nonetheless shown understanding and sensitivity towards deeply held Jewish sensibilities, and distanced itself from active mission to Jews.”
Responding to the delegation, Pope Francis replied that their document was an "affirmation that religions must use moral behavior and religious education - not war, coercion or social pressure – to influence and inspire.”
"This is most important: may the Eternal One bless and enlighten our cooperation, so that together we can accept and carry out ever better his plans,” he said, wishing his Jewish interlocutors a happy Jewish new year.
Speaking with the Pope in 2015, WJC President Lauder praised the Pope for his powerful message of support and said relations between the two faiths were stronger than they had ever been before. The WJC president added: “Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us.”