Hopes Gesture Will Strengthen Interreligious Relations

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, will accompany Benedict XVI this Sunday when the Pontiff visits Rome’s Synagogue.

The archbishop told the Italian news agency SIR that he and other Catholics of the Holy Land will accompany the Pope, in the hope that the gesture will strengthen interreligious relations, as well as express the Church’s respect for the Israeli community.

Others who will accompany the Holy Father include Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic nuncio in Israel and the apostolic delegate for Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, and Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for Israel.

“I will go with the Pope to the synagogue,” said Archbishop Twal. “My hope is that this visit might help our interreligious relations. It is a gesture we make with the heart, to demonstrate our respect also to the Israeli community. We hope it will have a positive impact on Israeli public opinion and on Jerusalem.”

Father David Neuhaus, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew-Speaking Catholics in Israel, told SIR that “although this visit does not represent a novelty, it has a high symbolic value. Jews and Catholics perhaps are not yet accustomed to seeing the Catholic Church going with respect to Jewish brethren.”

“Significant is the fact that on Sunday the patriarch and nuncio will be there, because it shows that the Church of the Holy Land also forms part of the universal Church, which is also concerned about the fortune of these Middle Eastern communities. This visit might contribute, in time, to change the mentality of future generations,” he added.

Also confirmed is the presence of a delegation of the Great Rabbinate of Israel, who will arrive in Rome for the ninth meeting of the Mixed Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and of the Holy See Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews. The meeting will take place Jan. 17-20.

Benedict XVI will visit the Synagogue of Rome on Jan. 17, the 21st Day for the Study and Development of Dialogue between Catholics and Jews, and the feast of Mo’ed di Piombo.

Mo’ed di Piombo commemorates a miraculous event of 1793 when the Jews of Rome escaped an attack by the populace of the city, thanks to a sudden storm which doused the fires that had been ignited against the gates of the ghetto.

Ricardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, had invited the Pope to visit the synagogue in January 2006, hoping Benedict XVI’s visit could coincide with the 20th anniversary of the historic visit made by Pope John Paul II in April 1986.

That visit marked the first time a Pope had entered a Jewish place of worship since St. Peter.

For Benedict XVI, the visit to the Synagogue of Rome will be the third visit to a Jewish place of worship during his pontificate. He visited the Synagogue of Cologne, Germany, in Aug. 2005, and the Synagogue of Park East in New York, in April 2008.