Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has praised Pope Francis as a “truly outstanding and inspirational spiritual leader” following a meeting with him in Rome.
The Chief Rabbi was accompanied by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
During the meeting he gave the Pope a special set of apple and honey used for Jewish New Year celebrations. He told Vatican Radio the gift represented bitterness experienced in the past and the hope of moving forward in a “sweet manner”.
This gift, he said, was an “expression of our thoughts as regards the background to our visit and how, thanks to [the Second Vatican Council document] Nostra Aetate, we are moving very much forward”.
The 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, which focused on relations with other faiths, falls on October 28 this year.
Cardinal Nichols said during their trip they had seen “the practical unfolding of Nostra Aetate” in the work of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism and of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at Rome’s Gregorian University, both of which they visited.
In a joint article for the Daily Telegraph this week Rabbi Mirvis and Cardinal Nichols said that in an age of hostile secularism it was “more important than ever” for different faiths to form close relationships.
“In many places to be a person of faith can be, in and of itself, an act of courage,” they said. “To confess your belief in God no longer commands universal respect … In many societies you are more likely to be dismissed as naïve, unsophisticated and narrow-minded.
“As such, when a view is expressed which is informed by one’s faith on issues such as assisted dying, the value of family life or social responsibility, that view is often treated with scepticism, as though it is somehow less rational or ill-founded.
“And all of this amid the alarming increase in the brazen persecution of Christian, Muslim and Jewish minorities which has become one of the most pressing and shameful issues of our time.
“That is why it is more important than ever for faith communities like ours to cultivate close working relationships,” the two leaders said.