Jews Reaffirm Commitment to Dialogue During Pope's Visit

Pope Benedict at Rome's main synagogue, 17 Jan 2010. (Photo: Osservatore Romano)

Leaders of the Jewish community reaffirmed their commitment to dialogue with the Catholic Church during a visit from Pope Benedict XVI to Rome's main synagogue on Sunday.

 "Despite a dramatic history, the unresolved problems and the misunderstandings, it is our shared visions and common goals that should be given pride of place," said Rome's chief rabbi Riccardo Di Segni to the crowd gathered.

"The image of respect and friendship that emanates from this encounter must be an example for all those who are watching."

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a holocaust survivor and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, told the Jewish Daily Forward that, "We live in world of symbolism, and [Benedict's] going to synagogue was a very symbolic statement.

 "A picture is worth 1,000 words," he continued. "Think what it means to a priest in, say, a village in Bolivia to see the pope during this visit to the synagogue."

"It is a message that dialogue with Judaism is on. The tracks were laid by the Second Vatican Council and the trains are running."

During an address that was continually interrupted by applause, the pope said his visit was made in an effort to "deepen" relations between the Catholic and Jewish communities and was a continuation of the work of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II

"When he came among you for the first time, as a Christian and as Pope, my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, almost 24 years ago, wanted to make a decisive contribution to strengthening the good relations between our two communities, so as to overcome every misconception and prejudice," Benedict said.

"My visit forms a part of the journey already begun, to confirm and deepen it."

In addressing the controversial topic of the Catholic Church's actions during the holocaust, the pontiff issued a plea to the Jewish people for forgiveness.

"The Church has not failed to deplore the failings of her sons and daughters, begging forgiveness for all that could in any way have contributed to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism … May these wounds be healed forever," he said.

Controversy over Catholic leadership during WWII was renewed in December when Benedict issued a decree to move Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood.

The Jewish community responded by asking the Vatican to disclose its public records on Pius, who is accused of ignoring the Jews suffering during the war, saying that the former pope's canonization should be considered after the records are thoroughly reviewed.

President of Rome's Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, said on Sunday that "the silence of Pius XII before the Shoah [Holocaust] still hurts because something should have been done."

"Maybe it would not have stopped the death trains, but it would have sent a signal, a word of extreme comfort, of human solidarity, towards those brothers of ours transported to the ovens of Auschwitz," he said.

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