VATICAN CITY, NOV. 14, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI spoke of a "more effective cooperation" between Jews and Catholics, when he received in audience a delegation from the U.S.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
During today's private audience, the Pope recalled: "This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's declaration 'Nostra Aetate,' which formulated the principles that have guided the Church's efforts to promote better understanding between Jews and Catholics."
"After a difficult and painful history, relations between our two communities are presently taking a new, more positive, direction," the Holy Father said.
"We must continue to advance along the path of mutual respect and dialogue, inspired by our shared spiritual heritage, committed to an ever more effective cooperation in the service of the human family," the Pontiff added.
Benedict XVI continued: "Christians and Jews can do much to enable coming generations to live in harmony and respect for the dignity with which every human being has been endowed by the Creator. I express the hope, shared by men and women of good will everywhere, that this century will see our world emerge from the web of conflict and violence, and sow the seeds for a future of reconciliation, justice and peace. Upon all of you I invoke an abundance of divine blessings."
In his remarks addressed to the Holy Father, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, thanked him for the invitation "to dialogue and exchange views, particularly in these critical times in a world desperate for moral clarity and civility."
"It is very appropriate that the Wiesenthal Center's third visit to the Vatican coincides with the 40th anniversary of 'Nostra Aetate,' the historic declaration of the Second Vatican Council which condemned 'anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at whatever time and by whomsoever,'" the rabbi said. "It is that declaration that set the stage for meetings such as ours.
"Prior to that historic step, Jews were often held in contempt and derided as an accursed people. Millions suffered through the ages because they were none to defend them."
Rabbi Hier continued: "Only in our lifetime, did a handful of great leaders, led by Pope John XXIII, muster the courage to speak out against these flagrant violations of God's law; none with greater conviction and determination then Pope John Paul II, whose message of friendship and inclusion of the Jewish people touched the hearts of millions around the world.
"We are grateful, Your Holiness of your affirmation of that friendship as you declared during your visit to the synagogue in Cologne when you said, 'I wish to reaffirm that I intend to continue on the path to improve relations and friendship with the Jewish people, following the decisive lead given by Pope John Paul II.'"
"A few weeks ago," the rabbi said, "humanity lost another great man of conviction, Simon Wiesenthal, often referred to as the 'Conscience of the Holocaust' -- who lost 89 members of his family and emerged from the inferno of the death camps, not to seek vengeance, but in search of justice on behalf of those who could no longer speak for themselves.
"He lived his message that, 'freedom is not a gift from heaven, it is something we must fight for each and every day,' that if we do not speak out against the murderers of today, then we will force our children and grandchildren to contend with the murderers of tomorrow."
"It is that message that inspires us to speak out when Christians are forsaken in North Korean Gulags, when Muslims suffer in Darfur, when innocent Hindus, Buddhists and Jews are murdered in suicide attacks," Rabbi Hier said.
"Tragically, Mr. Wiesenthal's message still resonates today. A mere 60 years after Auschwitz, anti-Semitism has again found a fertile home in Europe, threatening the stability of Jews and Jewish institutions," he warned.
"Today the greatest threat to mankind comes not from secularists and atheists, but from religious fanatics and zealots," he said. "Today those who help recruit and inspire terrorists to murder innocent civilians by promising them a place in heaven are not ungodly political leaders, but fundamentalist imans and mullahs who claim obedience to their Creator."
Rabbi Heir said: "The president of Iran, a religious man who prays five times a day, has re-enunciated the words of Adolf Hitler, and openly called for the obliteration of the state of Israel in violation of the United Nations Charter; a threat that has drawn rebuke from the Vatican but not yet from the United Nations General Assembly."
"Recent history has taught us the brutal consequences of a world silent in the face of evil. Allowing such a regime to acquire nuclear weapons would be like entrusting an addict to stand guard over his drugs," warned the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"The future of civilization depends on our ability to reach out and find that coalition of the good; those who still believe that nothing enduring was ever created by hate, no future made brighter by tyranny, no faith strengthened by fanaticism," he said. "We must do everything in our power to unite those tents of the righteous and the just to do our share of 'Tikun Olam' [repair the world], so that we can restore the balance and return to our Creator, the magnificent world he intended."
Rabbi Hier concluded by informing the Pope about the Wiesenthal Center's new Center for Human Dignity that will soon begin construction in the heart of Jerusalem.
The Center of Human Dignity, the rabbi said, will be "an institution that will promote mutual respect and social responsibility between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors throughout the region."
According to its Web page, the Los Angeles-headquartered Simon Wiesenthal Center, is "an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action."