Benedict XVI Welcomed to Synagogue

Pontiff, Jewish Leaders Emphasize Dialogue

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By Roberta Sciamplicotti

ROME, JAN. 17, 2010 ( Benedict XVI was welcomed with warm applause today as he visited the Synagogue of Rome, the third synagogue he has visited as Pontiff.

The Pope arrived around 5:25 this evening and was welcomed by a group including the president of the Jewish Community of Rome, Riccardo Pacifici; the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna; and by the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni.

Before entering the synagogue, the Holy Father placed flowers before memorial tablets that record two of the darkest moments in the history of the Jewish Community of Rome: one commemorating the round-up and deportation of 1,022 Jews on Oct. 16, 1943; the other marking the Oct. 9, 1982, terrorist attack on the Tempio Maggiore, in which a two-year-old child was killed, and more than 40 others were injured.

Benedict XVI, the second Pope to visit the Synagogue of Rome — John Paul II being the first in 1986 — was the first Pontiff to pause before the memorial tablet for the child. He placed a vase of white flowers there. He also greeted the relatives of the murdered child and the injured who survived the attack, among whom was Emanuele Pacifici, the father of the president of the Jewish Community of Rome.

Red flowers were placed before the tablet recalling the 1943 deportation.

Greater cooperation

Benedict XVI’s arrival was welcomed with applause and by shouts of “Viva il Papa.” Just before entering the synagogue, Benedict XVI turned once again to greet those present, who continued to applaud.

After the addresses of salutation given by Pacifici, Gattenga and Rabbi di Segni, the Pope began his speech, interrupted several times by the applause of those present. The synagogue was packed with more than 1,000 people among whom were Jews, Christians and Muslims.

In his speech, the Holy Father recalled the horror of the Shoah and proposed a greater cooperation between Jews and Christians, united by the Ten Commandments and committed to witness to the one God and to reawaken the desire for transcendence in society.

Among those present in the Tempio Maggiore were survivors of Nazi extermination camps, who were visibly moved when the Pontiff touched on one of the greatest tragedies in human history.

Profound sign

In his speech to the Pope, the president of the Jewish Community of Rome, Riccardo Pacifici, observed that the Pontiff’s visit “will leave a profound sign,” not only from a religious perspective, “but above all for the effect that we hope it can have on civil society.”

Pacifici also stressed his appreciation for the Pope’s “courageous position” on immigration and hoped for a secularity “that is never opposed to the contribution that the monotheistic religions can make.”

Recalling that his father, Emanuele Pacifici, escaped the Holocaust because he was hidden in the convent of the Sisters of St. Marta in Florence, the president of the Jewish Community of Rome noted that thousands of Catholics helped Jews, emphasizing that they did so “without asking for anything in return.”

In this context he called the supposed silence of Pope Pius XII a “missed opportunity” that could have given courage and hope to those who fled from extermination.

Pacifici concluded his speech stressing that dialogue between Jews and Christians “can and must continue.”

Greeting of gratitude

In his speech, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattenga, echoed Pacifici’s emphasis on dialogue, urging that “differences never be the cause of ideological or religious conflict, but of reciprocal moral and cultural enrichment.”

Finally, Rabbi Di Segni offered Benedict XVI a “greeting of gratitude” for his visit, recalling the necessity of a dialogue that puts the common objectives of the two religions in first place.

The Pope gave Riccardo Pacifici a painting of the Isola Tibertina by Giovanni Piranesi.

The Jewish Community gave the Pontiff a piece by Venetian artist Tobia Donà, which depicts a blue forest in Hebrew words, letters and numbers.

There are around 35,000 Jews in Italy, organized above all into the two largest communities of Rome and Milan. The Jewish community in Rome has about 15,000 members.

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