By Linda Bordoni
A meeting with Bratislava’s Jewish Community in the central Rybné námestie Square, where the city’s Neolog Synagogue was demolished by the government in 1969, provided Pope Francis with the occasion to thank Slovak Jews for their willingness to persevere on the path of rapprochement and friendship.
Addressing the community headed by the President of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic on the second day of his Apostolic Visit to the nation, the Pope described himself as having come to the encounter as a pilgrim, moved by the history of the meaningful Square where a synagogue once stood alongside the Cathedral of the Coronation.
Referring to the architectural setting that, he said is “an expression of the peaceful coexistence of the two communities, an unusual and evocative symbol, and a striking sign of unity in the name of the God of our fathers,” he said that like many here: “I too feel the desire to “remove my sandals” in a place blessed by human fraternity in the name of the Most High.”
Blasphemy is committed when human dignity is violated
The Pope decried how in later times “God’s name was dishonoured in a frenzy of hatred, during the Second World War [when] more than a hundred thousand Slovak Jews were killed.”
Then, he said, in an effort to eradicate every trace of the community, the synagogue was demolished, and he noted that blasphemy is committed whenever “the unique and distinctive dignity of the human person, created in His image, is violated.”
And reflecting on the history of the Jewish people he said we are called to admit with shame how often His ineffable Name“ has been used for unspeakable acts of inhumanity! How many oppressors have said: “God is with us”; yet it was they, who were not with God!”
“Dear brothers and sisters, your history is our history, your sufferings are our sufferings,” the Pope said.
He said he joins those present honouring the memory of their loved ones and he upholds the importance of remembering.
“Memory cannot and must not give way to forgetfulness, for there will be no lasting dawn of fraternity unless we have first shared and dispelled the darkness of the night,” he said.
And expressing his belief that now is a “time when the image of God shining forth in humanity must no longer be obscured” he said: “Let us help one another in this effort.”
False idols dishonour the name of the Lord
He said there are so many empty and false idols that dishonour the Name of the Most High: “the idols of power and money that prevail over human dignity; a spirit of indifference that looks the other way; and forms of manipulation that would exploit religion in the service of power or else reduce it to irrelevance. But also forgetfulness of the past, ignorance prepared to justify anything, anger and hatred” and he reiterated his invitation to condemn all forms of violence and anti-Semitism, and in working to ensure that God’s image, present in the humanity He created, will never be profaned.
Pope Francis reflected on the fact that though the synagogue on this site was torn down, a community alive and open to dialogue is present.
He recalled his meeting in Rome in 2017 with representatives of the Jewish and Christian communities and expressed his appreciation for the establishment of a Commission for dialogue with the Catholic Church.
He said “it is good to advance, in truth and honesty, along the fraternal path of a purification of memory, to heal past wounds and to remember the good received and offered,” and recalled that “according to the Talmud, whoever destroys a single individual destroys the whole world, while whoever saves a single individual saves the whole world". "Every individual matters, and what you are doing through your important exchanges matters greatly.”
“I thank you for the doors you have opened on both sides,” he said.
Slovakia: a land of encounter
And reiterating his deep belief that this world needs open doors, he said he hopes that in Slovakia, a land of encounter between east and west, north and south, “may the family of the children of Israel continue to foster this vocation, the summons to be a sign of blessing for all the families of the earth.”
The Most High blesses those families of brothers and sisters who respect and love each other and work together he said and invoked His blessings “so that, amid all the discord that defiles our world, you may always be, together, witnesses of peace. Shalom!”