Jewish-Christian friendship, a fragile undertaking “still to be consolidated”
Marine Henriot – Vatican City
Pope Francis’ greeting to the 60 members of the Amitié Judéo-Chrétienne de France (AJCF) association was brief, but “very moving, deeply intense”, says Giula Clara Kessous, a Jewish artist for peace at UNESCO, who attended the audience with Pope Francis on Monday 12 December. It is the voice of this UNESCO Ambassador for peace who interprets the audio book Jesus and Israel by the historian Jules Isaac, which was offered to the Pope.
“We felt that the Holy Father had a real desire to highlight the figure of Jules Isaac and to go further in the field of Jewish-Christian friendship”, the artist tells us. “The road we have traveled together is considerable”, Francis told his assembly, “but the task is not finished and I encourage you to persevere on this path of dialogue, of fraternity, of common initiatives”.
“I think his speech was very clear”, said Jean-Dominique Durand, President of Amitié Judéo-Chrétienne de France. “He advises us to continue, to pursue on the path of friendship between Jews and Christians. The stakes are high, especially in relation to antisemitism, which is constantly on the rise.”
According to the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, in 2017, while French Jews represent less than 1% of the total population, they suffer 33% of the total of racists attacks. According to the French Ministry of Home Affairs, in 2019, 687 antisemitic attacks were recorded compared to 541 in 2018, an increase of 27%.
A lack of education
Thus, the links are fragile, “always to be resumed and consolidated, especially in these hostile times when attitudes of closure and xenophobia are increasing, with even the disquieting reappearance of antisemitism, particularly in Europe, as well as violence against Christians”, said Francis.
“Pope Francis has reminded us of our mission”, says Jean-Dominique Durant, “to reassure, to tell the Jews that ‘contrary to what has too often happened in the past, you are not alone’.”
For the representatives of the Jewish community received on Monday, the resurgence of antisemitism in France is due to a lack of education, “a lack of understanding of what the other is”, explains Giula Clara Kessous, “we still see it today, through expressions that still exist in the French language, bad behaviors, starting in schools from a very young age.”
Art for peace
It was to fill these education gaps that the Jewish historian Jules Isaac published Jesus and Israel in 1948, one of his major publications, which analyses the “teaching of contempt” and goes back to the roots of Christian antisemitism in order to dismantle its origins. The book was largely written during the Second World War, when the 75-year-old historian was hiding in a village in Berry in central France, to escape Nazi persecution.
This audio book, presented to the Pope, will be distributed to more than 50 000 French-speaking schools. As a UNESCO Artist for peace, the interpret Giula Clara Kessous brings her theatrical art to life “through moments of reflection for better coexistence”. Thus, for this artist who has worked with Dr Denis Mugwege with comen victims of excision, as well as with survivors of the genocide in Rwanda and of the Shoah, “I had to be able to make Jules Isaac’s voice heard”.
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