Dialogue prevents religious extremism, pope tells Jewish group

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Interreligious dialogue is key to preventing "the extremism that, sadly, is a pathology that can appear also in religions," Pope Francis said in a message to members of a Jewish group engaged in dialogue for more than 50 years.

The pope had been scheduled to meet June 30 with members of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, but the Vatican press office said "a recurrence of knee pain" prevented him from doing so.

Instead, the pope gave the group his prepared remarks.

"Interreligious dialogue is a sign of our times and, I would say, a providential sign, in the sense that God himself, in his wise plan, has inspired, in religious leaders and in many others, the desire to encounter and come to know one another in a way respectful of religious differences," the pope wrote to the group.

Dialogue, he said, "is a privileged path to the growth of fraternity and peace in our world."

Pope Francis praised the groups that joined together in 1970 to establish the committee to engage in dialogue with the Vatican; the groups include: the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B'nai B'rith International, Israel Jewish Council on Interreligious Relations and the World Jewish Congress. The committee now is also involved in dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and with the World Council of Churches.

Christianity and Judaism, the pope told the group, both "bid us address disagreements, differences and conflicts, not in a confrontational way, but without prejudice, with peaceful intentions and with the aim of finding areas of agreement acceptable to all."

"Hatred and violence are incompatible with our faith in the God who is 'merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy and faithfulness,'" the pope said. "As Jews and Christians, we are called to act in such a way that we resemble our creator and Father as best we can."

But, the pope said, it is difficult to act that way "when we are made the object of injustice and persecution, as has frequently occurred in history and, tragically, continues to occur today."

"In this regard," he said, "I take this occasion to reiterate the Catholic Church's commitment to oppose every form of antisemitism, above all through preventive action, namely on the level of education, within families, parish communities and schools, and in lay associations."