Pope Benedict XVI said Monday evening that the cries of Holocaust victims continue to reverberate 60 years after the Second World War.
The German-born Benedict paid his respects to the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide at Israel's national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. Benedict shook hands with six elderly survivors of the Holocaust and rekindled the memorial's eternal flame during an emotional ceremony.
He also said the Church is working to ensure that hatred never reigns again. The Vatican has been widely criticized for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust - a charge that the Church denies.
The visit ended with a somewhat strident tone, as Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of Yad Vashem, criticized the pope's speech as being "devoid of any compassion, any regret, any pain over the horrible tragedy of the six million victims. Even the word 'six' was not included."
Rabbi Lau also censured the pope's use of the word "killed" instead of the word "murdered." Benedict, he added "said nothing about the killers, neither Germans nor Nazis. What bothered me the most was the lack of condolences to the Jewish nation, which lost a third of its sons (in the Holocaust).
"I'm not talking about an apology, I'm talking about empathy… this was more about sympathy to the pain of humanity. This speech had a cosmopolitan phrasing to it."
Yad Vashem Director Avner Shalev, however, valued the speech as "having important statements, especially when it comes to denying the Holocaust. It was an important, interesting speech and it referenced the need to fight violence, wherever it was. What I felt was lacking was any direct reference to anti-Semitism."
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said Monday evening that he regretted the fact that the Pope Benedict XVI speech "failed to rebuke past and preset Holocaust deniers."
Earlier Monday, the pope was greeted by President Shimon Peres at his official Jerusalem residence. During the ceremony Peres said, "This year, the year of your visit here, may reveal an opportunity for us and our neighbors, to attain peace."
Peres and Benedict planted an olive tree together, and the Israeli president presented the pope two gifts: wheat stalks developed by Israeli scientists and called Benedict XVI in his honor, and a 300,000-word Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible inscribed on a tiny silicon particle, using nanotechnology.
"I don't think you have one of these at the Vatican," Peres quipped.
Ronen Medzini, Roni Sofer and AP contributed to this report