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POPE-JEWS Jun-9-2005 (890 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope meets with world Jewish leaders, affirms commitment to dialogue

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his first major meeting with world Jewish leaders, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed his commitment to Jewish-Catholic dialogue, fighting anti-Semitism and promoting continued Catholic reflection on the Holocaust.

"It is my intention to continue on this path" begun by the Second Vatican Council to improve Catholic-Jewish relations, the pope told members of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.

The committee, which met the pope June 9, is made up of leaders of the world's major Jewish organizations -- including the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B'nai B'rith International, the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel -- as well as representatives from Italy, Latin America and throughout Europe.

Since 1970, the international committee has been an official dialogue partner of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

Pope Benedict said the Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration, "Nostra Aetate," which included a special section on the Catholic Church's relationship with the Jewish people, affirmed the Catholic belief that "the beginnings of her faith are already to be found in Abraham, Moses and the prophets."

"On the basis of this spiritual patrimony and the teaching of the Gospel, it called for greater mutual understanding and esteem between Christians and Jews and deplored all manifestations of hatred, persecution and anti-Semitism," he said.

"At the very beginning of my pontificate, I wish to assure you that the church remains firmly committed, in her catechesis and in every aspect of her life, to implementing this decisive teaching," the pope said.

Pope Benedict told the 25 rabbis and other leaders that he knows the history of relations between Christians and Jews "has been complex and often painful, yet I am convinced that the 'spiritual patrimony' treasured by Christians and Jews is itself the source of the wisdom and inspiration capable of guiding us toward a future of hope in accordance with the divine plan."

The pope also said "remembrance of the past" is a "moral imperative" for Catholics and Jews and is "a source of purification in our efforts to pray and work for reconciliation, justice, respect for human dignity and for that peace which is ultimately a gift from the Lord himself."

In particular, he said, remembrance and purification require "continued reflection on the profound historical, moral and theological questions presented by the experience of the Shoah," the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews.

Pope Benedict thanked members of the international committee for their willingness to engage in dialogue and for their commitment to joining with Catholic organizations in concrete projects to promote justice and charity in the world.

The commitment to dialogue, he said, is a commitment to promoting reconciliation in the world and ensuring the world increasingly is "in harmony with the Creator's will."

At the end of the audience, Pope Benedict left his chair and approached each member of the delegation, listening to what each of them had to say and presenting them with a commemorative medal.

Rabbi Israel Singer, vice president of the committee, had introduced the members of the group and prayed that Pope Benedict, whose name means blessing, would be "a blessing to your flock and to the entire world."

Saying the Second Vatican Council marked the beginning of "a truly revolutionary period in relations between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church," Rabbi Singer said, "we look forward to the period of your papacy being a period when we will be forging forward with the spirit of 'Nostra Aetate.'"

"The Jewish people come today to this important house with hope that a world filled with terror, a world filled with fear, a world filled with a kind of uncomfortable lack of security" can find strength and positive examples from "people of faith," he said.

"We think that we have much in common, and we believe that these days are very pregnant with opportunity. We hope that we can fill the vacuum that the world today feels, which has brought violence to it and brought fear and insecurity. Maybe we can bring once more order and security to that world. And it is in that spirit that we have come to join forces," he said.

Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told reporters after the meeting it was significant that Pope Benedict's first major meeting with non-Christian leaders was with representatives of the Jewish community.

The rabbi said the pope greeted the leaders with a great deal of warmth, which is "a reflection of his true feelings."

The Vatican's relationship with the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations experienced difficulty in the late 1990s over questions related to Pope Pius XII's conduct during World War II, particularly in light of the ongoing process to beatify and canonize him.

A reporter asked Rabbi Rosen if the issue was still problematic.

"It is not for the Jewish community to tell the Catholic Church who its saints are," the rabbi said. "But if the church says it wishes to have a relationship of mutual respect, then it is reasonable for it to be sensitive to our concerns.

"There would be very many (people) within the Jewish world who would see the beatification of Pius XII as an act of intentional insensitivity," he said.


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