The prayers were for peace and the security was tight as the Pope entered an Italian synagogue for the first time yesterday in an attempt to mend fences with the Jewish world.
However, the actions of the wartime pontiff Pius XII continued to be a bone of contention as Pope Benedict XVI claimed that many Italian Catholics, as well as the Vatican, had saved Jews during the Second World War “often in a hidden and discreet way”.
Fifteen survivors of the Nazi camps attended yesterday’s ceremony in Rome’s main synagogue but others boycotted it, condemning Pius for failing to raise his voice in defence of “our brothers who were sent to the ovens of Auschwitz” and angry at Benedict’s recent confirmation of his “heroic virtues” — a step toward his beatification.
In his synagogue speech, the German-born Pope, 82, urged Jews and Christians to “come together to strengthen the bonds which unite us and to continue to travel together along the path of reconciliation and fraternity”.
He recalled the pioneering visit to the synagogue in 1986 by John Paul II, his predecessor, who had “wanted to make a decisive contribution to strengthening the good relations between our two communities, so as to overcome every misconception and prejudice”. He said: “My visit forms a part of the journey already begun, to confirm and deepen it.”
In a reference to Nazism, the Pope said that the 20th century had been a “tragic period for humanity: ferocious wars that sowed destruction, death and suffering like never before, frightening ideologies rooted in the idolatry of man, of race and of the state, which led to brother killing brother”.
He added, however, that “many, including Italian Catholics, reacted with courage ... opening their arms to assist the Jewish fugitives who were being hunted down and earning perennial gratitude. The Apostolic See itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way”. To read full London Times story — Go Here Now.
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