Pope Benedict. Climate of respect and dialogue
Photo: AFP
Rome's synagogue
Photo: AFP

Pope says has great respect for Jews

Benedict XVI describes his planned visit to Rome's synagogue as milestone in Catholic-Jewish relations, but acknowledged 'problems and difficulties' exist between two faiths

Pope Benedict described his planned visit to Rome's synagogue on Sunday as a milestone in Catholic-Jewish relations, but acknowledged "problems and difficulties" existed between the two faiths.


In his Sunday address in St Peter's Square, given hours before he was due to visit the synagogue, he told pilgrims and tourists that the event was "another stage on the path of concord and friendship between Catholics and Jews."


He said a climate of respect and dialogue existed with Jews "despite problems and difficulties."


The visit, Benedict's first to Rome's synagogue and his third as pope to a Jewish temple, comes 24 years after Pope John Paul became the first pope in nearly 2,000 years to enter a synagogue and called Jews "our beloved elder brothers."


But it has been put under a cloud over his decision last month to move wartime Pope Pius XII nearer to sainthood.


Many Jews say Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, did not do enough to help Jews facing persecution by Nazi Germany, a position the Vatican rejects.


The visit has also deeply split Italy's Jewish community, with at least one senior rabbi and one Holocaust survivor boycotting it.


Jewish groups reacted angrily last month when Benedict, a German who was drafted into the Hitler Youth and German army as a teenager during World War Two, approved a decree recognizing Pius's "heroic virtues."


The two remaining steps to sainthood are beatification and canonization, which could take many years. Jewish groups wanted the process frozen until more Vatican archives are opened to scholars.



Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, president of Italy's rabbinical assembly and a former chief rabbi of Milan, is boycotting the pope over what he said were a series of moves by the Vatican seen as disrespectful to Jews.


"The pope knew perfectly well that several weeks later he would be visiting the synagogue and he knew how sensitive we are about the issue of Pius XII. Wouldn't it have been opportune to delay (the decision) by a few months?" he told an Italian newspaper last week.


At least one Roman survivor of the Holocaust, Piero Terracina, has also said he will boycott the visit to protest against several of Benedict's decisions regarding Jews.


The Vatican maintains that Pius was not silent but worked behind the scenes because public intervention would have worsened the situation for both Jews and Catholics in a wartime Europe dominated by Hitler.


Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, who will greet the pope, told Reuters in an interview last week that only God can judge whether Pius did enough to save Jews and whether he should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust.


Laras said the Jewish community was still stinging from the pope's decision to start the rehabilitation process last year of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the extent of the Holocaust.


פרסום ראשון: 01.17.10, 14:46
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