Pope Benedict XVI will visit Rome’s synagogue this fall, although a date has not been set.
The visit, which is expected in November, has been “openly discussed and can be confirmed,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.
The Jewish place of worship across the Tiber River belongs to the oldest Judaic community in Europe and is one of the oldest continuous Jewish settlements in the world, dating back to 161 B.C.
It also was the venue for Pope John Paul II’s historic visit in 1986, when he became the first pontiff ever to set foot inside a synagogue. His gesture helped confirm a path of friendship between Christians and Jews, in the spirit of Nostra Aetate, the declaration of the Second Vatican Council that sought to improve relations between the Roman Catholic Church and non-Christians.
Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni is “very pleased” at the news, synagogue officials said.
The invitation to visit the synagogue has been on the table for more than three years but has it come to fruition only now, perhaps because of recent tensions in Catholic-Jewish relations.
The Pope has been trying to steer relations back on course, thanking certain Jewish leaders for their understanding following the lifting of the excommunication on the Holocaust-denying, Lefebvrian Bishop Richard Williamson, and decrying anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial during his recent trip to the Holy Land.
Describing John Paul II’s 1986 visit, the Italian newspaper Il Giornale wrote: “No trip of this pilgrim Pope to any continent was so long as the one he made today; the short distance between the Vatican palace and the synagogue of Rome took two thousand years to cover.” However, the visit didn’t go down well with some Catholics who felt that John Paul had too readily overturned 2000 years of papal and Church conduct with the Jewish religion.
Details of Benedict XVI’s visit might be made public before he departs for his July 13-29 vacation in northern Italy.
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