In a speech given shortly after his visit to the Western Wall on Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI praised the efforts between Jews and Catholics to bolster religious tolerance and mutual understanding, and promised to deepen the cooperation between the Vatican and Jews around the world. "I thank Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger for their warm words of welcome and the desire they have expressed to continue strengthening the bonds of friendship which the Catholic Church and the Chief Rabbinate have labored so diligently to forge over the past decades," he told the gathering. "Your visits to the Vatican in 2003 and 2005 are a sign of the good will which characterizes our developing relations." "I assure you of my desire to deepen mutual understanding and cooperation between the Holy See, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Jewish people throughout the world," Benedict continued. "A great source of satisfaction for me since the beginning of my pontificate has been the fruit yielded by the ongoing dialogue between the Delegation of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel's Delegation for Relations with the Catholic Church." "Our encounter today is a most fitting occasion to give thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings which have accompanied the dialogue conducted by the Bilateral Commission, and to look forward with expectation to its future sessions," the pope said. "The willingness of the delegates to discuss openly and patiently not only points of agreement, but also points of difference, has already paved the way to more effective collaboration in public life." The pontiff emphasized that trust and dialogue was crucial to continuing the path of reconciliation between Christians and Jews. "Jews and Christians alike are concerned to ensure respect for the sacredness of human life, the centrality of the family, a sound education for the young, and the freedom of religion and conscience for a healthy society," he said. "These themes of dialogue represent only the initial phases of what we trust will be a steady, progressive journey towards an enhanced mutual understanding. An indication of the potential of this series of meetings is readily seen in our shared concern in the face of moral relativism and the offences it spawns against the dignity of the human person." "May the dialogue that has begun continue to generate ideas on how Christians and Jews can work together to heighten society's appreciation of the distinctive contribution of our religious and ethical traditions," the pope said, adding that "here in Israel, given that Christians constitute only a small portion of the total population, they particularly value opportunities for dialogue with their Jewish neighbors. " "Trust is undeniably an essential element of effective dialogue. Today I have the opportunity to repeat that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews," he said. Most importantly, Benedict repeated the tenets of Vatican II, the 1960 ecumenical council which absolved Judaism from the responsibility of killing Jesus. "Today I have the opportunity to repeat that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews," the pope said. "As the Declaration Nostra Aetate makes clear, the Church continues to value the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews and desires an ever deeper mutual understanding and respect through biblical and theological studies as well as fraternal dialogues. May the seven Bilateral Commission meetings which have already taken place between the Holy See and the Chief Rabbinate stand as evidence!" Speaking before the pope, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said, "I have contemplated over how much innocent blood could have been spared and how much senseless hatred could have been prevented had such a historic meeting taken place many years ago." Metzger said Benedict had agreed that the Catholic Church would stop all missionary activity in Israel, for which he thanked the pontiff. "I wish to thank you, Your Holiness - for your historic agreement and the commitment given by the Vatican, that the Church will henceforth desist from all missionary and conversion activities amongst our People," he said. "This is for us an immensely important message."