Israel’s chief rabbis urge pope to condemn destruction of synagogues, anti-Semitism
ROME – Israel’s two chief rabbis met with Pope Benedict XVI and urged him Thursday to speak out against the destruction of synagogues that followed Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and other forms of anti-Semitism.The rabbis warned the desecration of churches and other holy places could follow unless a strong stand is taken.”The Second World War started with burning of synagogues; then the crematoriums, burning people,” Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger said.”We are fearful the same terrorism of desecrating synagogues … will spill over into other parts of the world,” he said, noting that churches and mosques could be targeted.Metzger and Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar also asked the pope to urge priests, bishops and cardinals around the world to set aside one day of the year to preach the teachings of a landmark Vatican document on relations with Jews that deplored all forms of anti-Semitism.The document, “Nostra Aetate” celebrates its 40th anniversary on Oct. 28, and the rabbis suggested that day be used.The pope said he would try to respond “in a positive way” to the rabbis’ requests, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Oded Ben-Hur, told a news conference.The rabbis called on the pope at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.Metzger said the 45-minute meeting “showed both sides felt very comfortable with one another.””We realized there was an attentive ear. The response from the pope was very open and very direct,” he said through an interpreter.The Vatican released no information about the meeting.Ben-Hur, reading from a copy of the pope’s opening statement, said the pope had told the rabbis their visit was a “further step toward the process of building deeper religious relations between Christians and Jews.”Ben-Hur quoted the pope as saying the world’s eyes were constantly drawn to the Holy Land.”Unfortunately our attention is too often drawn by acts of violence and terror, a cause of immense sorrow to everyone living there. We must continue to insist that religion and peace go together, for religious belief and practice cannot be separated from the defense of the image of God in every human being,” he quoted the pope as saying.The meeting followed last month’s visit by Benedict to the central synagogue in Cologne, Germany, the second time a pope had entered a Jewish house of worship. During the visit, Benedict said the world was witnessing the rise of new forms of anti-Semitism.The visit also follows a diplomatic spat between the Vatican and Israel that erupted over the pope’s omission of Israel in a list of countries hit by terrorism. After Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wrote a letter to the pope, the dispute was resolved, Ben-Hur said.Soon after the pope was elected, Sharon invited him to visit Israel. The rabbis repeated the invitation.The rabbis wanted to speak to the pope of the need for further dissemination and understanding of “Nostra Aetate,” which was adopted by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, Ben-Hur said before the meeting.In the document, Latin for “In Our Time,” the Vatican deplored anti-Semitism in every form and repudiated the “deicide” charge that blamed Jews as a people for Christ’s death.The rabbis asked the pope to issue a general condemnation of anti-Semitism, terrorism and the desecration of synagogues that followed Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.Israel’s Cabinet reversed its position and left the empty settlement synagogue buildings standing after heavy pressure from rabbis and settlers. Israeli critics charged the real intent was political, not religious, setting a trap for the Palestinians, who would be unable and unwilling to preserve the buildings.Vail Colorado
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