Vatican reassures Jews of its esteem

Despite tension over Good Friday prayer, Benedict to make first papal visit to US synagogue.

Pope Benedict 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Vatican expressed its respect and esteem for Jews on Friday despite tension over a Good Friday prayer, issuing the assurances shortly before the pope begins a visit to the United States that includes a stop at a synagogue in New York. The Vatican acknowledged that some Jewish groups had expressed "disappointment" over the prayer Pope Benedict XVI revived from the old Latin rite that had historically been used as an excuse for violence and discrimination against Jews. But it insisted that a landmark document of the Second Vatican Council continues to sustain bonds of esteem, love and cooperation between Catholics and Jews, and repudiates any form of anti-Semitism. The pope will visit Manhattan's Park East synagogue during his April 15-20 visit to Washington and New York. Benedict had revised the prayer to address Jewish fears, but some Jewish leaders said the changes did not go far enough. The revised prayer does remove some key words that Jews found particularly offensive in the earlier version, including a reference to their "blindness" and the need to "remove the veil from their hearts." The Vatican statement said it wanted to reassure that the new formulation of the prayer "in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church's regard for the Jews" that has evolved from the Second Vatican Council and its Nostra Aetate (In Our Times) document. That, it said, sustains "the bonds of esteem, dialogue, love solidarity and collaboration between Catholics and Jews." It said the document recalled the "unique bond" linking Christians and Jews, and rejects "every attitude of contempt or discrimination against Jews, firmly repudiating any kind of anti-Semitism." The prayer for Jews is recited during Good Friday services of Easter Week, the most solemn week in the Christian calendar, in which the faithful commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus Christ before his resurrection on Easter. Jewish critics said they interpreted the new versions as requiring members of their faith - and all humanity - to convert to Christianity to find salvation. The prayer is part of the old Latin rite, also known as the Tridentine rite, which was celebrated before the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s paved the way for the New Mass used widely today in local languages. Last summer, Benedict allowed wider use of the old Latin rite. Benedict's visit to the New York synagogue on April 18 will only be the third recorded visit by a pope to a Jewish house of worship. During a visit to his native Germany in 2005, Benedict stopped at the rebuilt synagogue in Cologne that had been destroyed by the Nazis. Pope John Paul II visited Rome's central synagogue in 1986. Separately, Benedict scheduled a meeting with Jews and representatives of other faiths in Washington April 17.