COLOGNE, Germany, AUG. 19, 2005 (ZENIT.org).- In his visit to the synagogue of Cologne, Benedict XVI expressed his concern regarding a resurgence of new signs of anti-Semitism and racism.
Today’s highly symbolic visit, the second such visit of a modern Pope — John Paul II visited the synagogue of Rome in 1986 — serves also to advance new goals of dialogue between Jews and Catholics.
The visit began outside the synagogue where Rabbi Natanel Teitelbaum recited the “Kaddish,” a Jewish prayer for the dead, before a memorial to the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.
After the prayer, Benedict XVI entered the synagogue while a choir sang “Shalom Alechem,” Hebrew for “peace be with you.”
A shofar, or ram’s horn, sounded as Benedict XVI took his place in the first row of the temple of Germany’s oldest Jewish community, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938, and reconstructed in 1959.
Benedict XVI called the years of the holocaust as the “darkest period of German and European history,” and explained that “an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry.”
“The holiness of God was no longer recognized, and consequently contempt was shown for the sacredness of human life,” said the Pope.
Rabbi Teitelbaum said that the visit of the Pope constitutes a positive step toward peace for all peoples of the world, and an eloquent sign against anti-Semitism.
Cardinal Lustiger present
Benedict XVI, dressed all in white, received applause various times from those present, including Otty Schily, German interior minister, leaders of various German political parties, and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, retired archbishop of Paris, who is Jewish, and whose mother was killed in Auschwitz.
Recalling the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration “Nostra Aetate,” which he stated gave a decisive push to Jewish-Catholic dialogue, the Pope confirmed the Church’s commitment to “tolerance, respect, friendship and peace between all peoples, cultures and religions.”
To “encourage sincere and trustful dialogue between Jews and Christians,” Benedict XVI said that only through communication will it be possible “to arrive at a shared interpretation of disputed historical questions, and, above all, to make progress toward a theological evaluation of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.”
“This dialogue, if it is to be sincere, must not gloss over or underestimate the existing differences: in those areas in which, due to our profound convictions in faith, we diverge, and indeed precisely in those areas, we need to show respect for one another,” he said.
The Pope also proposed a joint effort to give “an ever more harmonious witness and to work together on the practical level for the defense and promotion of human rights and the sacredness of human life, for family values, for social justice and for peace in the world.”
The Ten Commandments, he said, “is for us a shared legacy and commitment.”