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Benedict to Visit Synagogue

07/02/2009 Comment

John Paul greets Rabbi Elio Toaff at Rome's main synagogue in 1986. (CNS)

The date has yet to be fixed, but Pope Benedict XVI will visit Rome’s synagogue in the fall.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told the Register today the visit has been “openly discussed and can be confirmed.” The Pope is expected to make the trip across the Tiber in November.

The Jewish place of worship 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.

It was also the venue for John Paul II’s historic visit in 1986, when he became the first Pope ever to set foot inside a synagogue. His 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.

If all goes to plan, Benedict will be welcomed by Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, who is said to be “very pleased” at the news.

The invitation to visit the synagogue has been on the table for more than three years, but only now has it come to fruition, perhaps because of the Williamson affair and other recent issues which have caused tensions in Catholic-Jewish relations.

The Holy Father has been trying to steer relations back on course, thanking some Jewish leaders for their understanding following the lifting of the excommunication on the Holocaust-denying Society of St. Pius X Bishop Richard Williamson and decrying anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial during his recent trip to the Holy Land.

His visit won’t, of course, be as historic as John Paul II’s in 1986. That was appropriately summed up in Il Giornale on the day it took place. In an editorial, the Italian newspaper said, “No trip of this pilgrim Pope to any continent was so long as the one he made today; the short distance between the Vatican palace and the synagogue of Rome took two thousand years to cover.”

Details of Benedict’s visit have yet to be announced, but will be made public soon, possibly before he departs for his July 13-29 vacation in northern Italy.

Filed under benedict xvi, catholic-jewish dialogue

About Edward Pentin

Edward Pentin
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Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Follow on Twitter @edwardpentin