In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave us "a mandate" to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
Photo: Marian archives
By David Came (Jan 25, 2010)
During his Jan. 17 visit to the Synagogue of Rome, Benedict XVI came as a Pope of reconciliation and mercy. He stressed how God's "merciful love" is the bond between Christians and Jews and implored that the "wounds" caused by the "scourge of anti-Semitism" "be healed forever."
Benedict XVI was following in the footsteps of John Paul II who visited the Roman synagogue in 1986, nearly 24 years ago. It was the third synagogue the German Pontiff has visited, after Cologne and New York.
"The synagogue was packed with more than 1,000 people among whom were Jews, Christians, and Muslims," reported the Zenit news agency. There are an estimated 15,000 Jews in Rome.
God's 'Merciful Love' and Healing the Wounds
In his opening remarks, Pope Benedict highlighted how God "has gathered us in ... His merciful love" and spoke of "travel[ing] together along the path of reconciliation and fraternity:
At the beginning of this encounter in the Great Synagogue of the Jews of Rome, the Psalms which we have heard suggest to us the right spiritual attitude in which to experience this particular and happy moment of grace: the praise of the Lord, who has worked marvels for us and has gathered us in His hesed, His merciful love, and thanksgiving to Him for granting us this opportunity to come together to strengthen the bonds which unite us and to continue to travel together along the path of reconciliation and fraternity.
The Pontiff later addressed anti-Semitism and the Shoah or the Holocaust in particular. He spoke poignantly of his visit in 2006 to the Auschwitz Concentration camp and then of the plight of the Roman Jews during World War II, many of whom were rounded up in Rome and then lost their lives at Auschwitz:
Furthermore, the Church has not failed to deplore the failings of her sons and daughters, begging forgiveness for all that could in any way have contributed to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism (cf. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, March 16, 1998). May these wounds be healed forever! ... As I noted during my visit of May 28, 2006, to the Auschwitz Concentration camp, which is still profoundly impressed on my memory, "The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people," and, essentially, "by wiping out this people, they intended to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that remain eternally valid" (Discourse at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, May 28, 2006).
Here in this place, how could we not remember the Roman Jews who were snatched from their homes, before these very walls, and who with tremendous brutality were killed at Auschwitz? How could one ever forget their faces, their names, their tears, and the desperation faced by these men, women, and children?
In the face of this great evil, the Holy Father said, "The memory of these events compels us to strengthen the bonds that unite us so that our mutual understanding, respect, and acceptance may always increase."
Our Acts of Mercy Uphold the World
Among the bonds that unite Christians and Jews, the Holy Father spoke of their "common spiritual patrimony" of the Ten Commandments and the Shema (cf. Dt 6:5; Lev 19:34), which sums up the commandments. In following the essence of God's commandments, Benedict spoke of how Simon the Just, one of the Fathers of Israel, had a key insight that can guide both Christians and Jews in living mercifully:
All of the Commandments are summed up in the love of God and loving-kindness towards one's neighbor. This Rule urges Jews and Christians to exercise, in our time, a special generosity towards the poor, towards women and children, strangers, the sick, the weak, and the needy. In the Jewish tradition there is a wonderful saying of the Fathers of Israel: "Simon the Just often said: The world is founded on three things: the Torah, worship, and acts of mercy" (Avoth 1:2). In exercising justice and mercy, Jews and Christians are to bear witness to the coming Kingdom of the Most High, for which we pray and work in hope each day.
So, God's revelation of Himself to us, our worship of Him, and then our acts of mercy are most needful in upholding the world.
Interestingly, four days before Benedict shared these insights, encouraging acts of mercy by Christians and Jews, he performed an act of mercy himself.
Living His Message of Reconciliation
On Jan. 13, the Holy Father personally forgave Susanna Maiolo, the young woman who jumped over a security barrier and knocked him down as he was entering St. Peter's Basilica to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass.
The Pope received Maiolo in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 13, after his weekly general audience.
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said that Maiolo "expressed her regret for what happened at the beginning of the celebration on Christmas Eve."
For his part, "the Pope wished to express his forgiveness, as well as his cordial interest and good wishes for her health," Fr. Lombardi said.
The Holy Father was unhurt in the incident, and Maiolo is said to have a history of psychological problems.
We see, then, that Benedict XVI, our Mercy Pope, was living his own message before he even spoke it at the synagogue. In effect, he showed "a special generosity" toward a stranger who was mentally ill and who could have harmed him. He was "bearing witness to the coming Kingdom of the Most High, for which we pray and work in hope each day."
Let's follow his example by performing a work of mercy today and every day of our lives. As we do, we will be helping to uphold the world.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. He is the author of Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.