The Church is “profoundly and irrevocably committed” to rejecting “all anti-Semitism” and to building better relations with the Jews, Pope Benedict insisted on Thursday as he spoke to a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Given the deluge of negative reactions after he removed the excommunication of four Pius X Society bishops, one of whom denies the extent of the Holocaust, Pope Benedict used today’s meeting as an opportunity to once again reaffirm the Church’s commitment to Jewish relations.
The Pope began his address to the Jewish leaders by recalling his first visit to a synagogue, in the German city of Cologne in August 2005. Also on his mind was a trip he made to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in May of 2006.
"As I walked through the entrance to that place of horror, the scene of such untold suffering," he said, "I meditated on the countless number of prisoners, so many of them Jews, who had trodden that same path into captivity at Auschwitz and in all the other prison camps."
"How can we begin to grasp the enormity of what took place in those infamous prisons? The entire human race feels deep shame at the savage brutality shown to your people at that time," Pope Benedict told the delegation.
The American Jewish leaders are paying a visit to Italy as part of their annual Leadership Mission to Israel, a trip that the Holy Father explained he will also be making soon.
“I too am preparing to visit Israel, a land which is holy for Christians as well as Jews, since the roots of our faith are to be found there," he said.
Thinking about the upcoming visit in May brought to mind an image the represents the Church’s commitment to rejecting anti-Semitism that is seared into Pope Benedict’s memory. "If there is one particular image which encapsulates this commitment, it is the moment when my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II stood at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, pleading for God's forgiveness after all the injustice that the Jewish people have had to suffer," he recalled.
“The Church is profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti- Semitism and to continue to build good and lasting relations between our two communities,” Benedict XVI emphasized. "The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity. ... It is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable."
Pope Benedict also raised a point that he made on January 28 about how the Holocaust must never be forgotten. "This terrible chapter in our history must never be forgotten. Remembrance - it is rightly said - is 'memoria futuri', a warning to us for the future, and a summons to strive for reconciliation. To remember is to do everything in our power to prevent any recurrence of such a catastrophe within the human family by building bridges of lasting friendship.
Resolved not to let the wounds of the past fester into a permanent infection, the Pope prayed, "It is my fervent prayer that the memory of this appalling crime will strengthen our determination to heal the wounds that for too long have sullied relations between Christians and Jews."
"It is my heartfelt desire,” he concluded, “that the friendship we now enjoy will grow ever stronger, so that the Church's irrevocable commitment to respectful and harmonious relations with the people of the Covenant will bear fruit in abundance."