JERUSALEM, MAY 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The founder of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation says he is expecting the visit Benedict XVI began today in Israel to deepen dialogue between Catholics and Jews.
Baruch Tenembaum, a pioneer in interreligious dialogue since the times of Pope Paul VI, told ZENIT that Benedict XVI’s weeklong Holy Land pilgrimage is a historic opportunity to take up “a profound dialogue with those elements who genuinely concern themselves with consolidating the bond of brotherhood that unites these two great religions.”
To mark the papal visit, the Wallenberg Foundation began a worldwide campaign to collect testimonies of Catholics who saved Jews during the Nazi persecution.
“The level of the response is surprisingly high,” he said. “We are receiving dozens of responses to our call, and our investigation teams are evaluating them.”
“In Israel, there are many survivors of the Holocaust still living who owe their lives to Catholics who saved them … it would be an excellent opportunity for the Supreme Pontiff to personally meet some of them,” Tenembaum reflected.
Coincidentally, an Israeli government officials, Yossi Peled, is a Holocaust survivor who along with his sisters was saved in Belgium by a Catholic family.
As well, Tenembaum continued, “The creation of the state of Israel is due in great part to Angelo Roncalli (later John XXIII), who interceded before Pope Pius XII so that obstacles were not placed to the vote in favor of the Jewish state.”
Moreover, he said, “Roncalli, when he was apostolic nuncio in Istanbul, saved the lives of thousands of Jews.” The founder noted that the Wallenberg foundation has a special committee dedicated to the recognition of that Pope’s legacy.
Tenembaum called for more steps to be taken, encouraging both an opening of the Vatican Secret Archives and the archives held by the Yad Vashem. And he recommended that Italian rabbis like Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor, be involved in discussions.
“In the past,” he said, “great injustices have been committed, like expelling the Jews from Spain, and it is necessary to go deeper in these issues. It is also important that those who need to ask for forgiveness do so, even if their victims are no longer with us to pardon them.”
“On the other hand,” Tenembaum added, “the Jewish people should show their eternal gratitude to those Catholics, men and women, who risked their lives to save their brothers persecuted by the Nazi monster.”
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