B’nai B’rith talks of Schalit, Iran's nukes in Pope meeting

Pontiff expresses gratitude to delegation that ‘the aspirations of the Jewish people for a home in the land of their fathers have been fulfilled.’

pope doing the roof is on fire 311 Reuters (photo credit: REUTERS)
pope doing the roof is on fire 311 Reuters
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A senior B’nai B’rith International leadership delegation raised concerns in a Thursday meeting with Pope Benedict XVI over the unprecedented upheaval in the Middle East and ongoing challenges there to Jews and Christians.
Other issues discussed included the continuing cruel captivity of 24- year-old Gilad Schalit, Iran’s illicit nuclear program and support of terrorism and the role of religious and political extremism in preventing regional peace. The pontiff told the group that “the life and work of all believers...should embody the conviction that a loving, compassionate Providence guides the final outcome of history, no matter how difficult and threatening the journey along the way may sometimes appear.”
The Pope, the Jews, and the Passion
The papal audience, held at the Vatican, was part of ongoing encounters between B’nai B’rith and successive leaders of the Roman Catholic Church aimed at advancing positive Catholic-Jewish relations.
The delegation – led by B’nai B’rith International Interim President Allan J. Jacobs and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, and including some 20 members of the veteran Jewish service organization from the US and around the world – also met with other senior Vatican officials while in Rome.
In his remarks to the pope, Jacobs thanked the pontiff for his important past statements on Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense, a news release from B’nai B’rith reported.
Jacobs also asked the pope to make clear that the acute scrutiny of Israel at last year’s Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops did not reflect the church’s approach to the Jewish state and that the church will powerfully encourage only fairness and care in addressing the region’s complexities, while opposing narratives and measures that target Israel or Israelis.
Jacobs especially noted the pontiff’s affirmation of Israel’s “legitimate need for security and self-defense,” and his statement that the Holy See joins in “giving thanks to the Lord that the aspirations of the Jewish people for a home in the land of their fathers have been fulfilled.”
The pope expressed his appreciation to the group for their involvement in Catholic-Jewish dialogue, noting the recent meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee that marked 40 years for that interchange.
“What has happened in these 40 years must be seen as a great gift from the Lord and a reason for heartfelt gratitude towards the One who guides our steps with his infinite and eternal wisdom,” he said.
Benedict also mentioned the recent meeting between representatives of the Chief Rabbinate and the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, held in Jerusalem at the end of March, where “stress was laid on the need to promote a sound understanding of the role of religion in the life of our present-day societies as a corrective to a purely horizontal, and consequently truncated, vision of the human person and social coexistence,” and used a verse from Jeremiah – “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” – to show the source of his assurance that no matter how difficult the path may seem, “a loving, compassionate Providence guides the final outcome of history.”
In discussions with church officials, the B’nai B’rith delegation noted a number of points of contention in Catholic-Jewish engagement, such as the Good Friday prayer “for the conversion of the Jews” in the Latin-language Tridentine Mass, and the still-unopened Vatican archives from the Holocaust period.
The delegation also praised positive steps made by the church, such as the pope’s recent reaffirmation of Vatican repudiation of the centuries- old anti-Jewish “deicide” charge, and noted the beatification this month of Pope John Paul II, who prioritized friendship with Jews.
“It’s a great honor to engage directly, and substantively, with Pope Benedict XVI,” Mariaschin said.
“Discussing points of agreement, as well as issues of concern, affords a vital opportunity for understanding between two faith communities of unique importance to each other.”
The delegation also presented Benedict with a dove-and-olive branch memento symbolizing peace, crafted by Haitian women from communities devastated by the massive earthquake there in January 2010.
A B’nai B’rith delegation already met with the pope some five years ago, and with four of the recent popes.