It was a meeting of minds

By Edward Kessler, December 15, 2011

The visit of the Chief Rabbi to the Vatican, organised by the Woolf Institute in Cambridge and the Vatican's Cardinal Bea Centre, provided an opportunity to regain momentum in Jewish-Catholic relations at the highest level. These had been bogged down due to some well-publicised disagreements in recent years.

Lord Sacks said that the visit coincided with the turmoil sweeping through Europe. "When Europe recovers its soul, it will recover its wealth-creating energies. But first it must remember: humanity was not created to serve markets. Markets were created to serve humankind," he said.

Before the papal audience, the Chief Rabbi and his party were given a private tour of the Vatican library and viewed some remarkable Hebrew manuscripts. We then moved from the quiet of the ancient library to the ornate rooms of the papal apartments - reminiscent of Versailles - with rich colours, beautiful tapestries.

Pope Benedict had aged considerably since his visit to the UK in 2010 but there was no doubting the warmth of their encounter. Lord Sacks expressed his concerns about the collapse of faith in Europe, warning of the consequences if a godless society dominated its future. This is a subject close to the heart of the Pope who also felt that godlessness and religious indifference undermines the moral foundations of society.

Towards the end of the audience, everyone left except for the Chief Rabbi, who had a few minutes on his own with the Pope. He described this tete-a-tete as "a meeting of minds and a beautiful moment". The Pope emphasised that Christianity shared many of the same beliefs with Judaism, identifying the Covenant with Abraham and the Ten Commandments in particular.

Edward Kessler, founding Director of the Woolf Institute, Cambridge

Last updated: 1:57pm, December 15 2011