Pope Benedict XVI calls for healing of wounds between Jews and Catholics
ROME (WJC)—At his highly publicized visit to Rome’s Great Synagogue on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI said the Vatican had “provided assistance” to Jews in a “hidden and discreet way” during the Holocaust, thus indirectly defending his predecessor Pius XII. While not citing him by name, Benedict XVI attempted to address concerns in the Jewish community that Pius XII did too little to prevent the mass murder of Jews and failed to speak out forcefully against the Nazis.
“Many Italian Catholics reacted with courage, often at risk of their lives, opening their arms to assist the Jewish fugitives,” the Pope told a packed congregation at the Tempio Maggiore, which is one of Europe’s largest synagogues.
The Pope was met by the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, who said that “despite a dramatic history, the unresolved problems and the misunderstandings, it is our shared visions and common goals that should be given pride of place”. Fifteen survivors of the Nazi death camps also attended the ceremony, but others boycotted it, condemning Pope Pius XII for failing to raise his voice in defense of “our brothers who were sent to the ovens of Auschwitz.”
Riccardo Pacifici, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, said in his address that Pius XII should have spoken out against the Holocaust. While he could not have stopped the genocide, he should have offered solidarity to the Jewish victims of the Nazis. “The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done,” Pacifici told the 1,000-strong congregation, which also included representatives of other confessions, including Muslim leaders.
Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told ‘Reuters’ after the ceremony that he had asked Benedict “to find a way to make it possible to open the archives in the Vatican in order to give some details of the papacy of Pius XII in order to ease tensions between the Jewish people and Catholics.”
In his speech, Benedict also remembered the near complete wiping out of Rome’s Jewish community during World War II: “Here in this place, how could we not remember the Roman Jews who were snatched from their homes, before these very walls, and who with tremendous brutality were killed at Auschwitz? How could one ever forget their faces, their names, their tears, the desperation faced by these men, women and children?“
The Pope underlined the need to strengthen dialogue between Catholics and Jews: “It is our duty, in response to God’s call, to strive to keep open the space for dialogue, for reciprocal respect, for growth in friendship, for a common witness in the face of challenges of our time, which invite us to cooperate for the good of humanity.”
He added that the church deplored the “failings of her sons and daughters, begging forgiveness for all that could in any way have contributed to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism… May these wounds be healed forever.”
The Jewish community in Rome is the oldest outside Israel. Pope John Paul II became the first head of the Catholic Church to visit a synagogue when he paid a visit to Tempio Maggiore in 1986.
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress