Benedict XVI Expresses Solidarity With Jews

Vatican Spokesman Hopes Statement Clarifies Church Position

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By Mirko Testa

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 28, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI expressed solidarity with Jews and strongly condemned the use of concentration camps during World War II in his response to the uproar caused by lifting the excommunication of a holocaust-denying bishop.

Speaking today after delivering his weekly general audience address, the Pope addressed for the first time a rift that began Saturday when the Vatican lifted the excommunication of Lefebvrite Bishop Richard Williamson.

The bishop had appeared days earlier on Swedish television claiming that historical evidence denies the gassing of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. He also alleged that no more than 300,000 Jews were killed during World War II.

Bishop Williamson was one of four prelates of the Society of St. Pius X who were illicitly ordained to the episcopate by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. The excommunication was also lifted for the other three bishops, and was meant to be a step toward healing the division caused by the ordinations some 20 years ago.

Today the Pontiff acknowledged the horror of the Holocaust, and especially the death camps such as Auschwitz, which he said "carried out the brutal massacre of millions of Jews, innocent victims of a blind racial and religious hate."

The Pope expressed his "hope that the memory of the Shoah moves humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the human heart," and that the Holocaust "be for everyone a warning against forgetting, against negating or reductionism, because violence committed against even one human being is violence against all."

"No man is an island," Benedict XVI continued, referring to the English Poet John Donne (1571-1631).

"May the Shoah teach especially, as much the old generations as the new ones, that only the tiring path of listening and dialogue, of love and pardon, leads peoples, cultures and religions of the world to the desired encounter of fraternity and peace in the world," he said. "May violence never again humiliate the dignity of man!"

Sufficient

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said immediately following the audience that the Pope's statements on the Holocaust "should be more than sufficient to respond to the questions of those who doubt the position of the Pope and the Catholic Church."

Since the weekend, reports had been circulating that the Rabbinate of Israel would indefinitely sever ties with the Vatican, which were established in 2000 when Pope John Paul II visited Israel, and cancel a meeting of the Commission for Religious Relations of the Holy See set for March.

The Vatican and the state of Israel have had their own, separate relationship since establishing diplomatic ties in 1993, and the current situation does not affect state relations.

Father Lombardi said today he hoped that "the difficulties presented by the Rabbinate of Israel can be the object of a subsequent and more profound reflection," and that Vatican-Jewish relations "can go forward fruitfully and serenely."

In an interview that aired today on Italian television, Oded Wiener, the director-general of the Rabbinate of Israel, affirmed the importance of relations with the Vatican: "I think that it is fundamental as much for us as for the Vatican itself."

Regarding Benedict XVI's comments after the general audience, Wiener underlined: "In the first place I believe that the declaration of the Pope this morning have been extremely important, for us and for the entire world. There is no place for people such as Williamson that deny the existence of the Holocaust."

"I think it has been a big step forward," he added.

The Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, said he was "very happy for a declaration from such a high level by the Holy See that clarifies and helps to overcome these misunderstanding."

"I think that it is erroneous, now, to personalize the question concentrating on a single bishop," he added.

With regard to the intention of Benedict XVI to travel to the Holy Land in May, the Israeli ambassador said "the Pope is welcome in Israel today, as he was welcomed yesterday and the day before."

[Adapted by Karna Swanson]