The opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God included an address from Pope Benedict and the first ever contribution at a Synod from a Rabbi.

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Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen (C), Chief Rabbi of Haifa, walks in front of Pope Benedict XVI during the Synod of the Bishops at the Nervi Hall at the Vatican October 6, 2008. (AFP/Getty Images)

The current economic crisis shows the importance of building our lives on the firm foundation of the Word, Benedict XVI affirmed on the first day of the synod of bishops.

The Pope said this today as he offered a meditation to the 244 synod fathers gathered for the first full day of the assembly on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church.

“We see it now in the fall of the great banks,” the Holy Father said. “This money disappears; it is nothing — and in the same way, all these things, which lack a true reality to depend on, and are elements of a second order. The word of God is the basis of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realists, we should count on this reality.”

“We should change our idea that matter, solid things, things we touch, are the most solid and secure reality,” the Pontiff continued. He noted how Jesus spoke of the two possibilities of building a house on the sand or on a firm rock.

“He who builds only on things that are visible and tangible, on success, a career, money — he is building on sand,” he said. “Apparently these are the true realities, but one day they will pass away.”

Built on sand

The Bishop of Rome continued: “And in this way, all these things that do not have a true reality to count on. […] He who builds his house on these realities, on material things, on success, on everything that seems to be, builds on sand.

“Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality; it is stable like the heavens and more than the heavens. It is the reality. Therefore we should change our concept of realism. The realist is he who recognizes in the Word of God, in this reality apparently so fragile, the basis of everything.”

Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, afterward told the press that the Pope had invited his listeners to see economy and finances as a “penultimate reality.”

“It is undeniable that other realities, when they are compared to the Word, reveal their limits,” he explained. “They are truly penultimate, but not the final truth.

“The heart of the topic that the Pope addressed is not the current economic situation, but the importance of the Word of God in the path of man. And from this light, other dimensions are like clouds that show their flimsiness.”

First ever address at a Synod from a Rabbi

The first Jew to ever address a world Synod of Bishops says his participation in the meeting of Church leaders is a sign of hope for progress in Jewish-Catholic relations.

Shear Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa, said this today after he participated in the afternoon session of the synod’s first working day. The rabbi, who is the co-chairman of the Jewish-Catholic bilateral commission, entered the Synod Hall together with Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the secretary-general of the synod, said last week that it was “logical” to invite to an assembly on the word of God a Jewish representative.

“There is a long, hard and painful history of the relationship between our people, our faith, and the Catholic Church lea! dership and followers — a history of blood and tears,” Cohen said. “I deeply feel that my standing here before you is very meaningful.

“It brings with it a signal of hope and a message of love, co-existence, and peace for our generation, and for generations to come.”

Explaining the role of Scripture in the Jewish faith, the rabbi said: “We pray God using is own words, as related to us in the Scriptures. Likewise, we praise him — also using his own words from the Bible.

“We ask for his mercy — mentioning what he has promised to our ancestors and to us. Our entire service is based upon an ancient rule, as related to us by our rabbis and teachers: ‘Give him of what is his, because you and yours are his.'”

He said that rabbis use Scripture to address issues of concern, such as life, secularism, love and peace.

“Our point of departure stems from the treasures of our religious tradition, even! while we endeavor to speak in a modern and contemporary language and address present issues,” Cohen said. “It is amazing to observe how the holy Scriptures never lose their vitality and relevance to present issues of our time and age.

“This is the miracle of the everlasting and perpetual word of God.”