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Pope and Israeli chief rabbis underline Christian-Jewish dialogue

Jerusalem, 12 May (ENI)

Pope Benedict XVI has reaffirmed an "irrevocable" commitment of the Roman Catholic Church to reconciliation between Christians and Jews after praying at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

"The Church continues to value the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews and desires an ever deeper mutual understanding," the pontiff told Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger during a 12 May meeting at Heichal Shlomo, adjacent to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.

Pope Benedict arrived there from the Western Wall, a relic of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Here, the pontiff read a psalm in Latin, then placed a "letter" in the stones of Western Wall, a traditional gesture, and prayed for some minutes in silence.

Just above the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is a complex of buildings holy to Muslims made up of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock from where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended into heaven.

Many faithful also believe that it was here that Abraham, the biblical patriarch revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims, intended to sacrifice his son Isaac before being prevented from doing so by God.

"Here the paths of the world’s three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us what they share in common," Benedict said during a meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein. "In a world sadly torn by divisions, this sacred place serves as a stimulus, and also challenges men and women of goodwill to overcome misunderstandings and conflicts of the past."

At the meeting with the chief rabbis, Pope Benedict received applause from officials when he reaffirmed the commitment of the Catholic Church, "to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council [in 1965] for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews".

Rabbi Metzger welcomed the meeting with the pontiff, saying had such an encounter taken place, "many years earlier, so much innocent blood could have been saved". Rabbi Amar appealed to Benedict to make known that the Jewish people deserve a renaissance and want, "to live in this land".

Pope Benedict is widely seen as attempting to build bridges during his eight-day visit to the Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, after separate incidents that angered Muslims and Jews, and for which the pontiff later issued statements of regret.

Benedict sparked criticism earlier in 2009 by lifting the excommunication of a renegade bishop who had denied that Jews died in Nazi gas chambers, though the Vatican later said the pontiff had been unaware of the prelate’s views.

Some Israeli commentators have accused Benedict of failing to show enough remorse when he visited the Yad Vashem memorial to six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis during the Second World War.

"I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honour the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah [Holocaust]," the Pope said on 11 may when he laid a wreath at the monument.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a survivor of the Holocaust, and chairperson of the Yad Vashem Council, said after the papal visit, "Something was missing. There was no mention of the Germans or the Nazis who participated in the butchery, not a word of regret. If not an apology, then an expression of remorse [was needed]."

Still, the Jerusalem Post quoted Arthur Schneier, senior Rabbi of Park East Synagogue in New York, as saying, "The Pope’s very presence at Yad Vashem is a statement, particularly against those Holocaust deniers who challenge the history of the Shoah."

All articles (c) Ecumenical News International