Pope Francis Tells Jewish Leaders: Denying Israel's Right to Exist Is anti-Semitism

The meeting in St. Peter's Square was in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the declaration promulgated by Pope Paul VI that led to improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

This handout picture released by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis during a general audien
This handout picture released by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis during a general audience for interfaith relations at St Peter's square on October 28, 2015 in Vatican AFP

Jewish leaders met with Pope Francis in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the declaration promulgated by Pope Paul VI that led to improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

“Yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity. No to anti-Semitism,” the pope said Wednesday morning during the public audience on St. Peter’s Square.

Later, Francis said, “Since Nostra Aetate, indifference and opposition have turned into cooperation and goodwill. Enemies and strangers became friends and brothers.”

The landmark document inaugurated historic changes in the Catholic Church’s relations with other faiths. Its 600-word section on Judaism — approximately one-third of the document — rejects the charge, long leveled against the collective Jewish people, that Jews are guilty of killing Christ.

The Jewish leaders were part of a delegation of representatives of the World Jewish Congress in Rome for a meeting of its governing board. The meeting focused on the situation of Jews around the world, as well as the current tensions in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and the Iranian threat.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation.

In St. Peter’s Square, Francis effusively greeted a Jewish leader from his native Argentina.

“You’re still alive?” the pope greeted Julio Schlosser, head of the Jewish political umbrella DAIA , giving him a hug.

Schlosser underwent treatment  in June; he had suffered a major heart attack in 2012.

“I’m very happy to see you,” the pope told him. “You know how much I prayed for you.”

Prior to the public audience, the pope received WJC President Ronald Lauder in a private audience.

The WJC Governing Board at its meeting, which ended Tuesday, adopted a resolution calling on the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to return to direct peace negotiations without preconditions as soon as possible. Another resolution called on the international community to maintain, and if necessary expand, sanctions against Iran pending verification of compliance with the nuclear agreement reached in the spring with world powers.