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Pope Rome synagogue visit cleared

Polemics over Pius XII won't block Benedict's historic visit

04 January, 18:43
Pope Rome synagogue visit cleared (ANSA) - Vatican City, January 4 - The Rome Jewish Community on Monday confirmed that a visit to the capital's synagogue by Pope Benedict XVI will go ahead as planned, easing fears of a rift following polemics last month over Pius XII.

The Vatican's decision to advance the wartime pope closer to sainthood angered the Jewish community and had sparked fears that Benedict's January visit to the Rome Synagogue would be cancelled. Pius XII, criticized by many for failing to openly condemn the Holocaust, was recognized as 'venerable' in mid-December, the second of four stages in the canonization process. But a statement by the Jewish Community of Rome, published by the Vatican press office, confirmed that Benedict's visit to the Synagogue would take place as scheduled. ''Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Great Synagogue of Rome on the afternoon of January 17,'' the statement said. ''The meeting will take place on Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Day, which this year coincides with the Roman Jewish holiday of 'Moed di Piombo'''.

Moed di Piombo is a festival celebrating miraculous rains that saved Rome's Jewish ghetto from burning to the ground after a pogrom in 1793.

Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Day, a worldwide event, was established by John Paul II in 1990, four years after he became the first pope ever to enter a synagogue with his landmark visit to the temple in Rome. Benedict will now become the second pope in history to visit the Rome Synagogue. The Jewish community revealed he had accepted their invitation last March and the pontiff announced his official acceptance at the beginning of the Jewish New Year in September.

Benedict has worked hard to ease tensions between Jews and Catholics since his election in 2005, widely condemning Holocaust denial and reiterating his commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations.

One of his first acts as pope was to send a message to Rome's Jewish community vowing to continue John Paul II's legacy of dialogue and respect.

The summer after his election, Benedict made his first visit to a synagogue in the German city of Cologne, followed by an April 2008 visit to New York's historic Park East Synagogue.

In May 2009, he prayed at Israel's Yad Vashem monument commemorating the Holocaust.

However, he did not enter the adjacent museum where a caption accuses Pius XII of not doing enough to save the Jews, and Jewish-Catholic tensions have flared up more than once since Benedict took office.

In 2008, the Italian Jewish community boycotted Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Day ceremonies after Benedict reinstated an Easter prayer calling on Jews to convert.

Relations with Jews and Israel came under further strain in 2009, when the Pope lifted the excommunication of bishop Richard Williamson, a member of an ultra-traditionalist Catholic society and a vocal Holocaust denier.

The Vatican's decision to elevate Pius XII along with the popular John Paul II in mid-December prompted several days of angry debate.

In a bid to repair the damage, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi issued a detailed statement explaining why Pius XII had been recognized as 'venerable'. He said there was no reason to expect Pius and John Paul would proceed to beatification - the next step towards canonization - at the same time. He said there was no certainty over when or even whether Pius would be beatified. Lombardi insisted the move had not been intended as a hostile act towards Jews. He also explained the elevation reflected Pius XII's ''relationship with God and his faith'' and was not an assessment of the pontiff's ''operational choices''. Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, president of the Italian Rabbinical Association, immediately welcomed the Vatican's response, citing its ''conciliatory tone'' and ''explanation that the move was not intended as an inflammatory one''. He said canceling the visit would have ''negative consequences'' but the Jewish Community has only now given official confirmation of the visit.

Detractors claim Pius XII did not do enough to save Jews, but his supporters say he did not speak out loudly so he could help Jews behind the scenes. Jewish groups say the only way to settle the issue of Pius's wartime role is to open the Vatican's archives on the war years.

The Vatican has been cataloguing the secret files for several years but says the sheer number of documents means it will be unable to open its archive before 2015 at earliest.

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