There has been a Jewish population in Rome since before the time of Christ. At some point in history this population was segregated into a certain part of town, called the Jewish Ghetto. The Jewish Ghetto or Quarter still exists today and is a fascinating part of town to visit.
The above photo is of a section of the facade of a small church that is on the very edge of the Jewish Ghetto, over near the Tiber River and Rome’s Synagogue. The church is called St. Gregory of the Divine Pity (San Gregorio della Divina Pietà). You can read a bit more about the fascinating history of this church here.
The reason why I post this photo is because of the very interesting image and the inscription on its facade. Pictured is Christ on the Cross, the Blessed Mother standing by Him, and Pope St. Gregory kneeling before His feet. And on the plaque beneath the oval image is an inscription in Hebrew (on the left) and Latin (on the right). It is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 65, verses 2 and 3:
I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who continually provoke me to my face…
What does all this mean?
It was an attempt to evangelize the Jewish people. It was an attempt to show how the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ.
Perhaps it seems rather combative, intolerant, or even severe to our modern ears and eyes. Maybe it seemed that way to folks at that time as well – who knows. And notwithstanding whatever contemporary cultural “baggage” that we might bring to the discussion, we could certainly debate the prudence of this type of evangelical approach. (In any case, I’m not interested in hosting a discussion here about the history of Jewish-Christian relations in Rome, which is its own can of worms. You can read the post that I linked to above to get a taste of that story.)
Many 20th- and 21st-century practitioners of Recreational Outrage, purveyors of Political Correctness, have called for this image and inscription to be removed. But those calls have been resisted. And shouldn’t they be? After all, wouldn’t removing this aspect of the monument be in some way hiding or covering over the truth? Wouldn’t it be a denial of the past, which is to say, a denial of our heritage – a denial, in some way, of ourselves?
Conclude what you will about the methods used to evangelize Jews (in this case in the 18th century); conclude what you will about the history of Catholic-Jewish relations in Rome and elsewhere. But I would simply like to conclude with one observation of my own:
They were evangelizing.
They were motivated by the conviction that the faith is true and urgent and meant for all men and women. They were motivated by the knowledge that Christ is the Savior of all. Perhaps they went about things wrongly. Perhaps there were injustices, even grave ones (again, beyond the scope of this post). Perhaps….
But don’t we tend to fall down on the side of the Recreational Outrage/Politically Correct crowd today, for fear of being “intolerant”? Wouldn’t we rather just remain silent, for fear of offending someone? Or regardless of what we may or may not want to do, isn’t it the fact that we often do remain silent?
The faith is meant to be shared – with everyone! It falls to us to discern the most charitable and effective ways to do so.