The pope and the rabbi: A tale of two men

The pope and the rabbi: A tale of two men

22nd April 2008, Comments 0 comments

German-born Pope Benedict XVI and Jewish rabbi, Arthur Schneier had intertwined fates.

Their opposing fates have been intertwined since World War II.

Pope Benedict XVI, 81, was an unwilling member of the Hitler Youth conscripted into military duty at age 16, and Rabbi Arthur Schneier, 78, a Vienna-born Jew, survived the Holocaust in the Budapest ghetto.

Last week, the two religious leaders met at the upscale Park East Synagogue, on New York's Upper East Side, chatting softly -- almost out of reach of the microphone -- in their native German as they shifted positions at the podium and handed each other gifts at the front of the Jewish sanctuary.

English may have been the language of their comments to the crowd, but it was clear the two men shared an abiding cultural background that put them at ease with one another.

The encounter also had broader significance -- it is only the third recorded time that a pope has visited a synagogue anywhere, following John Paul II in Rome in 1986 and Benedict in Cologne, Germany, in 2005.

On the fourth day of his six-day US visit, Benedict's stop at the synagogue on the eve of the Jewish celebration of Passover in part signaled a Catholic gesture of reconciliation of the controversy surrounding his own recent promotion of a Latin liturgy urging the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

It also represented Benedict's "commitment to enhancing Jewish- Catholic relations," as Schneier put it, and was in a way an extension of John Paul's admission in 1998 that Christians bore some of the blame for the Holocaust.

Schneier, known for his international advocacy on behalf of world Jewry including those in the former Soviet Union, leads one of the largest Jewish congregations outside of Israel.

"How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in peace and unity," he said, facing the pope, before opening the curtains for a brief moment for Benedict to glimpse into the chamber containing the Torah.

The pope said he felt especially close to Jews on the eve of Passover, as they prepared to "celebrate the great deeds of the Almighty and to sing the praises of him who has worked such wonders for his people."

He began his short talk with the Hebrew word for peace: "Shalom," adding, "I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of scripture and prayed in a place such as this."

Schneier called Benedict's visit a "historic occasion" that would be "recorded in history forever."

The rabbi also noted that the Second Vatican Council in 1965, which said Jews do not bear collective guilt for Jesus' crucifixion, was a "turning point" for Jewish-Catholic relations.

"Your presence here gives us hope," Schneier said, looking at Benedict, not the audience. "To feel the presence of God we must face one another."

"Our love for God can never come at the expense of love for his children," Schneier said. "At a time when religion is misused and abused by some, we must intensify together our commitment to repairing our fractured world."

Benedict smiled as a Jewish child presented him with a Haggadah -- the story of Passover and the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt -- and a box of unleavened matzah consumed at Passover.

"I will eat it tomorrow evening," the pope promised, eliciting bringing laughter from the audience.

DPA with Expatica

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