Rabbi Schneier: Benedict a Global ‘Spiritual Anchor’

Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013 05:12 PM

By David A. Patten

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On the eve of the Pope’s departure from the seat of St. Peter, global interfaith champion Rabbi Arthur Schneier tells Newsmax that the decision to step down from the papacy was a selfless act. He also predicts the Pope will make “a very significant contribution” to the Church and interfaith dialogue even in retirement.

Schneier, who heads the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interreligious organization supporting religious tolerance, also tells Newsmax that the retiring Pope, a personal friend, appeared “rather frail” when he last saw him in November in Rome.

“I asked myself the question: Please God . . . how does he carry on with the awesome responsibilities he had?” Schneier recalls.

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The two made history together in April 2008, when Benedict visited Schneier at Park East Synagogue in New York City, marking the first time a Pope had visited a U.S. synagogue.

Schneier serves as Park East’s chief rabbi. In February 2009, Schneier, who has led interfaith missions around the globe and has convened half a dozen international conferences to stem ethnic conflicts, attended a private audience with Pope Benedict at the Vatican. During that visit, the Pope reaffirmed the Nostra Aetate that the Vatican Council II adopted in opposition to anti-Semitism and religious intolerance.

Schneier says he first met then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was one of Pope John Paul II’s closest advisers. Pope Benedict succeeded Pope John Paul II as Bishop of Rome in April 2005.

Whenever Schneier and the Pope would meet, they would converse in German, their common native tongue. The Pope was born in Bavaria, and Schneier, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States in 1947, hails from Vienna, Austria.

“The other thing that he and I shared was a world view shaped as a result of our war experiences,” Schneier recalls. “I am a survivor of the Holocaust. He was a survivor of WWII. When you go through what we’ve gone through, you have a different perspective on life. Your world view is shaped by the experience.”

Schneier calls Pope Benedict “a very warm, respectful, kind, and gentle man. And a caring person.” He lauds his strong, repeated condemnation of anti-Semitism, adding that, “He was a voice very much against the tide of relativism and secularism. I think he was sort of a spiritual anchor against the tide that is sweeping Europe and a secular society.”

Benedict’s departure from the papacy will mark the first time in nearly 600 years that a living Pope has resigned. Schneier, who was with the Pope when he made his historic visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem in May 2009, says stepping down from such a high position is an act of selfless humility.

“Basically, it’s a decision by a man of faith with integrity, humility, and sincerity,” says Schneier. “You know, to thine own self be true. He realized that he would be in a way shortchanging [by] remaining in this high office of the church, because he could not travel extensively [due to his] physical limitations. So I think the main consideration here was: A selfless man of faith who for the benefit of his people decided this was the decision to be made.”

The rabbi adds that he will miss seeing his friend lead the Catholic Church.

“I’m trying to reconcile myself going to Rome, and not seeing him in the high office, or some of his important encyclicals and important statements, affecting not only the Catholic Church, but also a world that is really in transition,” Schneier says. “Again, I respect the decision, and all the conspiracy theories that are bandied around, I reject that. This was a conscious, deliberate decision by a man of faith who was not egocentric.”

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But he predicted that Pope Benedict will continue to be a powerful force for good in the world.

“God bless him and I pray that he may have health and long life,” says Schneier. “I’m sure that he’ll have the peace of mind and peace of heart to make many contributions.

“Pope Benedict has great intellect, and [is a] very formidable, gifted writer. Unburdened from all the administrative duties, the travel and so forth, he’s going to continue to make a very significant contribution,” he adds.


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