ROME — Pope Francis visited the Great Synagogue of Rome Sunday, marking only the third time that a pope has crossed the Tiber River to enter the primary Jewish place of worship in the Eternal City. Rather than a prayer service, the visit became a joint appeal to end violence and terrorism.

“The hatred that comes from racism and bias or worse, which uses God’s name or words to kill, deserves our contempt and our firm condemnation,” said Ruth Dureghello, president of the Jewish community of Rome.

Dureghello, the first woman ever to hold the office, expressed deep admiration for Francis, but also laid down a clear challenge to the pontiff on the defense of Israel and the condemnation of Islamic terrorism.

After thanking Francis for an earlier comment in support of the Jewish State — the pope recently said that an attack against Israel is also a form of anti-Semitism — Dureghello said that peace and security “cannot be conquered through stabbing and terror.”

“It cannot be achieved through bloodshed in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ytamar, Beth Shemesh, and Sderot,” she said, referring to Israeli cities that have suffered attacks.

“Can we work on the peace process by counting the number of victims of terrorism?” she asked, responding, “No, we can’t.”

“We must all call for a stop to terrorism,” said Dureghello, who received several standing ovations from the crowd gathered in Tempio Maggiore, built in 1904 on the rubble of the old Jewish Ghetto, created by order of Pope Paul IV in 1555. “Not only the terrorism in Madrid, London, Brussels, and Paris, but also the daily terrorist attacks in Israel. Terrorism is never justified.”

Dureghello reminded those present that while many wonder if today’s Islamic terrorism will hit Rome, the truth is that the city has already been hit.

“Just one name: Stefano Gaj Taché,” she said, referring to a two-year-old toddler who was killed on Oct. 9, 1982 during an attack on the synagogue by a band of Palestinian terrorists.

Before entering the house of prayer, Francis honored Taché’s memory, laying a bouquet of white flowers next to his memorial. Minutes earlier, he had offered a similar gesture to honor the 1,000 Jews of Rome who were deported to Auschwitz on Oct. 16, 1943.

Only 16 of them ever returned to their homes, and a handful were seated in the front row at the synagogue, wearing striped scarves similar to their concentration camp uniforms. They received several standing ovations, including from Francis.

“Pope Francis, today we have a great responsibility vis-a-vis the world for the bloodshed by terrorists in Europe and in the Middle East, for the blood of persecuted Christians, and for the attacks against unarmed civilians even within the Arab world, for the heinous crimes against women,” Dureghello said.

“We cannot sit and look. We cannot remain indifferent,” she said. “We cannot make the same mistakes of the past, when we remained silent and turned our backs. Men and women who did not do anything when train wagons stuffed with Jewish people were sent to the crematoriums.”

Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, had a similar message for the pope.

The religious leader of Rome’s Jewish community, who’s also a medical doctor, said that Sunday’s visit had two levels of significance: continuity in Jewish/Catholic relations, and the rejection of religious violence.

Di Segni said that by being the third pope to visit the synagogue, Francis proves that the gesture first made by Pope John Paul II in 1986 is still “valid and meaningful,” and a break from the past “characterized by contempt for Judaism.”

Although Sunday marked the first time in his pontificate that Francis crossed the threshold of a Jewish house of prayer, this is the second time Di Segni has welcomed a pope to his synagogue, as he was already the chief rabbi of Rome when Benedict XVI visited in 2010.

The second message from Sunday’s event, Di Segni said, “is dictated by the urgency of the times.”

“The Near East, Europe, and many other parts of the world are besieged by wars and terrorism,” he said. “Today the sad novelty is that after two centuries of disasters produced by nationalism and ideologies, violence has come back and it is fed and justified by fanatic visions inspired by religion. And again, this triggers religious persecutions.”

The rabbi said Sunday’s event, in which several Muslims also took part, offered a powerful witness against violence in the name of God.

“On the contrary, a meeting of peace between different religious communities, as the one that is taking place today here in Rome, is a very strong sign against the invasion and abuse of religious violence,” Di Segni said.

Pope Francis, who addressed the gathering last, also condemned terrorism and anti-Semitism.

“Conflicts, wars, violence, and injustices open deep wounds in humanity and call us to strengthen the commitment toward peace and justice,” the pope said. “The violence of man against man is in contradiction with any religion worthy of this name, and in particular with the three great monotheistic religions.”

The three monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Francis also said that humanity must learn from the mistakes made in the past, particularly the Holocaust.

“The Shoah teaches us that we must always utmost vigilance, to take prompt action in defense of human dignity and peace,” the pontiff said.

“Shoah” is the preferred Hebrew term for the genocide of Jews by the Nazis.

As expected, the Vatican document Nostra Aetate, a 1,600-word declaration from the Second Vatican Council in 1965 that helped reshape Catholic relations with non-Christians, particularly Jews, was also a common thread during the meeting.

“From enemies and strangers, we have become friends and brothers,” Francis said. “The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way: ‘Yes’ to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity; ‘No’ to any form of anti-Semitism, and a condemnation to all insults, discrimination, and persecution that derive from it.”

Dureghello also signaled the declaration as a key factor in Sunday’s gathering, saying that such a meeting would have been “difficult to imagine” before Vatican II and the document which “paved the way to a new path based on dialogue.”

For the president of Rome’s Jewish community, the visit was more than a sign of ritualism: “It is an important landmark at a very sensitive time for religions,” she said.

“I feel I can say that Jews and the Catholics, starting in Rome, must find shared solutions to fight against the evils of our time,” said Dureghello. “We have the responsibility to make the world in which we live a better place for our children.”