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Author Topic: Pope Benedict XVI visits Rome's Synagogue  (Read 1669 times)


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« on: 19 January 2010, 20:04:02 »


AFP -  Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom was to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Rome's Great Synagogue on Sunday, the first visit by a pontiff to the site in 24 years.
"I will welcome (the Pope) today when he comes to the Great Synagogue," Shalom told Israeli public radio by telephone from Rome.
"Benedict XVI was in Israel less than a year ago and visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem) and his visit today is an historic event that draws great emotion," he added.
The last papal visit to the site was by Pope John Paul II in 1986.
"It is a religious event, not a political one, and it should symbolise the reconciliation between Jews and Catholics," Shalom said.
The Vatican's relations with Jews have been strained in recent years as it has advanced the possible beatification of Pope Pius XII, who many historians argue did not do enough to save Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.
But the Catholic Church has long argued that Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, saved many Jews who were hidden away in religious institutions, and that his silence was aimed at protecting them.
In December, Benedict declared Pius "venerable" in move that advances him one step closer to sainthood, drawing fire from international Jewish groups.
Shalom said he would ask the pope to "delay" the process of beatification during the visit.
Shalom's visit to Rome is also aimed at paving the way for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's trip to Israel next month.

ROME -- In a synagogue visit haunted by history, Pope Benedict XVI and Jewish leaders sparred yesterday over the record of the World War II-era pope during the Holocaust and agreed on the need to strengthen Catholic-Jewish relations.
Both sides said the visit to the seat of the oldest Jewish community in the Diaspora was an occasion to overcome what Benedict called "every misconception and prejudice."
Signs of the Jewish community's tragic history were abundant, as the German-born Benedict stopped at a plaque marking where Roman Jews were rounded up by the Nazis in 1943 and at another marking the killing of a 2-year-old boy in an attack by Palestinian terrorists on the synagogue in 1982. A handful of death-camp survivors wore striped scarves to symbolize the camp uniform.
Benedict defended his predecessor Pius XII against critics, telling the audience the Vatican worked quietly to save Jews from the Nazis during World War II.
Many Jews object to Benedict moving Pius toward sainthood, contending that the wartime pope didn't do enough to protect Jews from the Holocaust.
While he didn't mention Pius by name, Benedict told Jewish leaders in the synagogue that the Vatican "itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way."
Benedict said Catholics acted courageously to save Jews even as their extermination "tragically reached as far as Rome."
He spoke shortly after Jewish Community President Riccardo Pacifici, whose grandparents were killed at Auschwitz while his father was saved by Italian nuns in a Florentine convent, criticized Pius. Pacifici said Italian Catholics worked to save Jews but the "silence" of Pius "still hurts as a failed action."
Rome's Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni later told the packed synagogue that "human silence ... doesn't escape judgment."
Several prominent Jews had said they would boycott, but Benedict received warm applause throughout the 90-minute visit. In an emotional moment, Pacifici greeted the Holocaust survivors, and the entire audience, including Benedict, rose to honor them.
The temple sits in the Old Jewish Ghetto, the Roman neighborhood near the Tiber River where for hundreds of years Jews were confined under the orders of a 16th-century pope.

An Italian Jewish leader told Pope Benedict on Sunday that his wartime predecessor Pius XII should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust to show solidarity with Jews being led to the "ovens of Auschwitz".
The comments, from the president of Rome's Jewish community Riccardo Pacifici, were made during the pope's first visit to Rome's synagogue and were some of the bluntest ever spoken by a Jewish leader in public to a pope.
"The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah, still hurts because something should have been done," Pacifici told the pope, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
"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.
The visit, Benedict's third trip to a Jewish temple since becoming pope in 2005, has deeply split Italy's Jewish community after he took the decision last month to advance Pius XII on the path towards sainthood.
Many Jews say Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, did not do enough to help Jews facing persecution by Nazi Germany.
In his speech to the pope, Pacifici paid tribute to Italian Catholics, priests and nuns during the war and said their efforts made Pius' "silence" hurt even more.
The Vatican maintains that Pius was not silent during the war, but chose to work behind the scenes, concerned that public intervention would have worsened the situation for both Jews and Catholics in a wartime Europe dominated by Hitler.
The pope, speaking after Pacifici, broadly stuck to this stance, although he did denounce the Holocaust as "the most extreme point on the path of hatred" and acknowledged that "unfortunately, many remained indifferent".
"The Apostolic See (the Vatican) itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way," Benedict said, referring to the wartime record of the Catholic Church during Pius' papacy.
Jews have asked that the Vatican wartime archives be opened for study and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom repeated the request to the pope privately at the synagogue.
"I asked the pope to find a way to make it possible to open the archives in the Vatican in order to give some details of the papacy of Pius XII in order to ease tensions between the Jewish people and Catholics," Shalom told Reuters at the synagogue.
Italian Holocaust survivors gave the pope a letter saying "the silence of someone who could have done something has marked our lives ..." The letter said: "We are here but we have never left Auschwitz".
The visit 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".
Benedict, a German who was drafted into the Hitler Youth and German army as a teenager during World War Two, has had a more difficult relationship with the Jewish community.
Many are still seething at his decision last year to start the rehabilitation process of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the extent of the Holocaust.
And some in the Jewish community, including at least one senior rabbi and a Holocaust survivor, decided to boycott the Sunday synagogue visit after Benedict approved a decree recognising Pius's "heroic virtues".
The two remaining steps to sainthood are beatification and canonisation, which could take many years.
Copyright © 2008 Reuters

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