The Vatican announced today that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Rome’s synagogue slightly later than expected, in the afternoon of Jan. 17, 2010. According to a statement, the visit will coincide with the 21st Day of Deepening and Development of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, as well as a local Jewish festival.
The festival is known as “Mo’ed di Piombo,” which commemorates a miraculous event of 1793: The Jews of Rome escaped an attack by the populace of the city thanks to a sudden storm that doused the fires that had been ignited against the gates of the ghetto.
The visit has been on the cards for some time: Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed it to the Register back in July, but no date had then been fixed.
The Holy Father’s visit will come after recent controversies such as the Good Friday prayer in the extraordinary form that calls for the conversion of Jews and the lifting of the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson of the schismatic traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.
Benedict has been trying to steer relations back on track, making a special point of thanking some Jewish leaders for their understanding following the controversy over Bishop Williamson, who denies the extent of the Holocaust. The Pope also condemned anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial during his trip in May to the Holy Land.
The Jewish place of worship the Pope plans to visit belongs to the oldest Judaic community in Europe and one of the oldest continuous Jewish settlements in the world, dating back to 161 B.C. The synagogue was also the venue for Pope John Paul II’s historic visit in 1986, when he became the first pope ever to set foot inside a synagogue.
That gesture helped confirm a path of friendship between Christians and Jews, in the conciliar spirit of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations between the Church and non-Christians.
The Vatican also announced today that the Holy Father will visit the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the Nov. 16 opening of the World Summit on Food Security.