Antisemitism is a sin against God, Pope Francis says, as hate crimes surge

By Claire Giangravé
Posted Feb 6, 2024

[Religion News Service — Vatican City] Concerned by the “spiral of unprecedented violence” in the Holy Land, which is causing division and hostility all over the world, Pope Francis condemned antisemitism while making an urgent appeal for peace in a letter published on Feb. 3.

“My heart is torn at the sight of what is happening in the Holy Land, by the power of so much division and so much hatred,” the pope wrote in a Feb. 3 letter sent to Jewish theologian Karma Ben Johanan and addressing “Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel.”

Johanan was among 400 rabbis and experts who signed an appeal in December asking the pope to acknowledge the suffering endured by Jews and asking him to reiterate his commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations by condemning the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that left as many as 1,200 dead.

Francis commented on how the ensuing war has divided public opinion worldwide and even led to cases of antisemitism and anti-Judaism. The pope said he is “very concerned” by the global reports showing a significant rise of antisemitism since the beginning of the conflict and amid Israel’s incursion into Gaza, which has led to the death of more than 27,000 Palestinians.

“The path that the Church has walked with you, the ancient people of the covenant, rejects every form of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, unequivocally condemning manifestations of hatred toward Jews and Judaism as a sin against God,” the pope wrote.

Francis once again called for peace in the Holy Land and underlined that the people of Israel are close to his heart “and to the heart of the Church.” He shared in the sorrow felt by many in Israel who have lost loved ones or have been traumatized by the war. The pope once again made an appeal for the release of hostages taken by Hamas in October.

Despite the challenges of the moment, the pope urged a shared commitment to hope by Catholics and Jews. “We must act, starting first and foremost from the Holy Land, where together we want to work for peace and justice, doing everything possible to create relationships capable of opening new horizons of light for everyone, Israelis and Palestinians,” he wrote.

Pope Francis has consistently called for an end to the conflict in the Holy Land and in other parts of the world, pleading for people to look beyond their differences to create meaningful paths toward peace. In a recent interview with Italian daily La Stampa, the pope praised the work of his man on the ground, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

Pizzaballa has been attempting to foster relations with Israeli religious and political authorities to promote dialogue and a ceasefire, while protecting the small Catholic community in the Holy Land. Pope Francis said he speaks every day with the parish priest of the only Catholic Church in Gaza, the Holy Family Church, which currently offers refuge to 600 people.

The pope has condemned the terrorist actions of Hamas while maintaining the need to protect the lives of innocent civilians in Palestine. He has also promoted the long-held Vatican support for a two-state solution in the Holy Land enshrined in the 1990s Oslo Accords.

Speaking to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Johanan praised the papal response addressed to the Jewish community. “We are profoundly grateful for the trust and spirit of friendship that the pope, and with him the entire church, used to confirm the special relationship that unites our Catholic and Jewish communities,” she said.