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Reports that Israel and the Vatican plan a religious "site swap" of international dimensions, giving the Church control of the Last Supper Room in David's Tomb on Jerusalem's Mount Zion in exchange for Jewish control of the ancient Toledo Synagogue in Spain which was turned into a church, were denied by President Moshe Katsav and a papal representative on Wednesday.
The Vatican newspaper, El Messagero, reported that Katsav is expected to sign an agreement during his visit that will give the church control over the upper part of David's Tomb.
The church has already shown Israel a trial agreement, according to which the Vatican will receive control over this part of David's Tomb in exchange for the ancient synagogue in Toledo, Spain, which was converted into a church after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.
While inferring that he would welcome such a move, "there is no agreement till now," President of the Pontifical Council of Religious Relations with the Jews Cardinal Walter Kasper told The Jerusalem Post. Katsav said that he had read the reports, "but I know nothing about the matter."
Kasper was at Beit Hanassi on Wednesday within the framework of a series of events marking the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the ground-breaking document, which changed the way the Catholic Church relates to the Jewish People, said Ron Kronish, the director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, and moderator of the session at Beit Hanassi.
He described this new dialogue between Catholics and Jews and other Christians and Jews as "an historic, unprecedented and most welcome development."
Katsav termed Nostra Aetate as "a turning point" in the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews, and paid tribute to Pope John XXIII, "a great humanist," who initiated the revolution in the Catholic Church.
But it was for Pope John Paul II, who played a remarkable role in the advancement of Catholic-Jewish relations, that Katsav, who had met with him on three occasions, had the highest praise, crediting him with taking forward John XXIII's philosophy. John Paul's pro-Jewish attitude was already evident when he was still a priest in Poland, recalled Katsav.
"We Jews will remember him as an ardent fighter against anti-Semitism," he said. "We will also remember his historic visits to the Great Synagogue in Rome and to the Western Wall in Jerusalem."
Katsav lamented the fact that neither the Jewish nor the Christian world is sufficiently informed about what Nostra Aetate entails and stressed the need for intensive education both in this context and the context of Holocaust history.
"Anti-Semitism is raising its head again in Europe and poses a great threat to peace, stability and democratic rule," he warned.
Kasper, who brought greetings from Pope Benedict XIV, said that Nostra Aetate was a document that in clear, unambiguous terms said no to all forms of anti-Semitism in the present and the past and expressed condemnation of all forms of persecution. It also speaks out against terrorism and emphasizes the fundamental values shared by Christians and Jews. "Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have done their utmost to implement the document," he said, "and Pope Benedict is determined to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors."
The Catholic church, he added, wanted to contribute as much as it can to peace and reconciliation based on mutual respect and justice for all between all the peoples of the region.
Rabbi David Rosen, recently elected President of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Relations, was the only person present among a large group of religious and lay people, including diplomats, who had been part of the team that negotiated the establishment in 1994 of full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel.
Speaking of the monumental change of attitude on the part of the Church, Rosen said: "There is no parallel transformation on an ideological level in the course of human history."
IJCIR chairman Rabbi Israel Singer, in a reference to the Holocaust Day resolution passed on Tuesday by the UN General Assembly, said that the people of this generation live in an age of many miracles. The changed perspective of the Church was a miracle and the UN resolution was a miracle, taking into account that the UN had promulgated and years later rescinded a resolution equating Zionism with racism.
The words of the Catholic Church today are words of reconciliation rather than recrimination, he said, urging that Nostra Aetate be adopted not only by Catholics but by all Christians - "and not only Christians but other Children of Abraham."