Pope Benedict XVI visits synagogue, warns of rising anti-Semitism and xenophobia
COLOGNE, German – German-born Pope Benedict XVI on Friday became the second pope to visit a synagogue, entering to the haunting tones of a ram’s horn, praying before a Holocaust memorial and lamenting a rise in anti-Semitism.”We need to show respect for one another and to love one another,” Benedict said, pressing a theme of interfaith understanding that has marked his first foreign trip as pope.The hourlong stop, for which Cologne’s Jews stood and applauded, was filled with significance for the 78-year-old Benedict, who grew up in Nazi Germany. He called those times “the darkest period of German and European history.”He made no mention of his own trials, when he was enrolled in the Hitler Youth as a teenager and later deserted from the German army near the end of the war.But his spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, called the stop at the blue-domed Roonstrasse Synagogue “an event of historic significance – a German pope, who was on his first official trip, himself took the initiative for the visit.”Rabbi Netanel Teitlebaum held up his right hand, extending it as the “hand of Jewish friendship,” and the pope warmly grasped it.Speaking in a synagogue rebuilt after being destroyed by the Nazis, Benedict said that “today, sadly, we are witnessing the rise of new signs of anti-Semitism and various forms of a general hostility toward foreigners.”He did not elaborate, but Europe especially has witnessed increasing hate crimes in recent years.Benedict began the visit by standing quietly with his hands clasped during a Hebrew prayer before a memorial to the 6 million Jews killed by Nazi Germany during World War II – 11,000 of them from Cologne.Then he strode into the main hall as the choir sang, “shalom alechem,” or “peace be with you.” A shofar, or ram’s horn, sounded as the pope sat down at the front. He listened intently as the cantor sang.The pope underlined his commitment to the interfaith goals of his predecessor, John Paul II, who made the first papal visit to a synagogue in Rome in 1986, worked to improve relations between Catholics and Jews and established diplomatic ties with Israel.”Today I, too, wish to reaffirm that I intend to continue on the path toward improved relations and friendship with the Jewish people, following the decisive lead given by John Paul II,” said Benedict, who did much of the theological groundwork for John Paul’s outreach while serving as a Vatican official in charge of doctrine.Outreach to Jews and Muslims is one of the themes of Benedict’s first foreign trip as pope in conjunction with World Youth Day, a Roman Catholic festival that has drawn more than 400,000 young people from 197 countries to Cologne. He planned to meet with Muslim leaders Saturday.He met with Protestant leaders Friday evening, repeating his commitment in the land where the Reformation began to make Christian unity a priority of his pontificate.But Benedict added that there are differences in ethical positions that undermine expectations for a common response from Christians. He did not go into any details.Repeating a point from his synagague visit, the pope said that “there can be no dialogue at the expense of truth.” He said efforts for closer relations must be pursued “in fidelity to the dictates of one’s conscience.”Progress has been made between peoples, but “much more remains to be done,” Benedict said at the synagogue. “We must come to know one another much more and much better.”The visit did bring out some of the troubled history between Catholics and Jews.In welcoming the pope, synagogue president Abraham Lehrer urged Benedict to fully open the Vatican’s World War II archives – a period during which some Jews claim Pope Pius XII did not do enough to stave off the Holocaust. The Vatican denies that and has begun releasing some documents.But Benedict’s visit also appeared to have helped smooth over a dispute between the Vatican and Israel that arose after the Israeli government faulted Benedict for not mentioning attacks on Israelis in a recent condemnation of terrorism. The Vatican responded with a terse statement asking the Israelis not to tell the pope what to say.Abraham Lehrer, a member of the synagogue board, said the controversy “did not cast any shadow over the synagogue visit.”He noted the presence in the front row of Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, calling that “a sign that the controversy has been overcome.” Stein was introduced to the pope.Benedict’s remarks focused on the horror of the Holocaust, the common heritage of Christians and Jews, and the need for better relations to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.”In the 20th Century, in the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry,” he said. “The result has passed into history as the Shoah,” he said, using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.Vail – Colorado
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