URGENT John Paul Makes First Recorded Visit to Synagogue by a Pope
ROME (AP) _ Pope John Paul II and Rome’s leading rabbi embraced in greeting on Sunday at the start of the first recorded visit by a pope to a synagogue. During the visit, John Paul deplored the ″hatred and persecution″ of the Jews throughout the centuries.
Speaking in Rome’s monumental main synagogue, spiritual center of perhaps the oldest Jewish community in the West, the pope pledged that the Roman Catholic Church would further its efforts to remove all forms of prejudice.
But John Paul did not address the thorny issue of the Vatican’s refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
John Paul and Rome’s chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, sat in upholstered chairs, trimmed in gold, at the head of the synagogue, which they had entered to the sound of a choir singing a psalm.
The pope wore a white skull cap and cassock, decorated by a gold cross, for the historic occasion. The rabbi also wore a white gown, with a stole striped in black.
The synagogue sits in what was until 1870 the ghetto where Jews where confined under an edict of Pope Paul IV in 1555.
″Certainly, we cannot and should not forget that the historical circumstances of the past were very different from those that have laboriously matured over the centuries,″ the pope said.
He quoted from the Second Vatican Council’s revolutionary 1965 document on non-Christian religions, ″Nostra Aetate″ (″In Our Times″), which officially refuted the charge against the Jews of killing Christ and was considered a turning point in Catholic-Jewish relations.
John Paul said the church ″deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time an by anyone. I repeat, by anyone.
″I would like once more to express a word of abhorrence for the genocide decreed against the Jewish people during the last war, which led to the holocaust of millions of innocent victims,″ he said.
Vatican officials have stressed the ″religious nature″ of the pope’s visit and said that it did not have political overtones.
Giacomo Saban, the Jewish community president, expressed the hope that ″any reticence in regard to the state of Israel″ will be removed and that this would be a ″further step in the fraternal dialogue stated in ’Nostra Aetate.‴
Italian newspapers reported that on the eve of the papal visit, Arab ambassaors in Italy issue a joint statement that the visit not be interpreted ″as an identification of Judaism with Israel.″
The Vatican has never formally explained why it has not established diplomatic relations with Israel but Vatican officials have indicated that the question of unsettled boundaries and the lack of peace in the region are holding up ties. The Holy See does not have formal ties with Jordan, either.
Italian officials mounted a massive security operation for the visit, using more than 3,000 policemen and banning cars from the area.
Arab terrorists attacked the synagogue in October 1982, killing a 2-year- old boy and wounding 36 people. The Jewish community at the time expressed anger at John Paul, who had met with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat a month before.