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Pope to visit Rome synagogue

Benedict second pope in temple on January 17

13 October, 18:02

(ANSA) - Rome, October 13 - Pope Benedict XVI will become the second pope ever to enter the Rome synagogue on January 17, the Vatican announced Tuesday.

A date for the visit has been long in coming after the president of Rome's Jewish Community, Riccardo Pacifici, announced the pope's acceptance of an invitation in March.

The pope gave his official acceptance at the beginning of the Jewish New Year in September leading some observers to expect a visit this autumn.

Instead, his visit has been scheduled on Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Day, inaugurated by John Paul II in 1990, four years after he became the first pope ever to enter a synagogue with his visit to the one in Rome. Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Day coincides with a Jewish holiday celebrating miraculous rains which saved the ghetto in Rome from burning to the ground after an 18th-century pogrom.

Last year, the Italian Jewish community boycotted the commemoration ceremonies after Benedict reinstated an Easter prayer which calls on Jews to convert.

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

But Benedict has worked hard to ease the tensions, widely condemning Holocaust denial and reiterating his commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations, which have been a main priority since his election in April 2005.

One of Benedict's 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 for World Youth Day.

Benedict made his second visit to a Jewish temple in April 2008 after accepting an invitation to New York's historic Park East Synagogue. Photo: Pope Benedict XVI with members of Rome's Jewish community

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