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Posted May 3, 2005

Jews Praise Popeís Commitment


Jewish leaders praised Pope Benedictís swift and firm commitment to follow in his predecessorís path of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation, saying it was "a very powerful signal" for the future.

"I trust in God to help me continue the dialogue and strengthen the collaboration with the sons and daughters of the Jewish people. "Benedict said in a message to Romeís Jewish community only two days after his election.

"This was a pleasant surprise because of the speed with which the new pope wanted to send such an important message of continuity," Romeís Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni told Reuters on Friday. "I think this will send a very powerful signal to Catholics around the world."

Pope John Paul II revolutionized Catholic relations with Jews. He made a historic visit to Romeís synagogue in 1986 and called Jews "our beloved elder brothers."

He also lead the Vatican into forging diplomatic ties with Israel, visited the Jewish state in 2002 and mentioned Romeís former chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, in his last will and testament.

In his autobiography, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said he and his brother were enrolled in the Hitler Youth when membership was obligatory. But his biographers say he was never a member of the Nazi party and his family opposed Hiltlerís regime.

"I really did not have any doubts about continuity because this pope was always side by side with John Paul on matters of doctrine, "Di Segni said.

John Paul was also the first pope to visit Nazi concentrations camps and repeatedly told Catholics that anti-Semitism was a sin against God.

"It was something special for the new pope to go out of his way to send his message so quickly, "Rabbi David Rosen, who heads inter-faith relations for the American Jewish Commitee, told Reuters from Jerusalem.

Rosen said that new popeís commitment to good relations with Jews was rooted in his life in Germany, where he grew up under the rule of Adolf Hitler and saw anti-Semitism first hand.

"Pope Benedict XVI is truly committed to the struggle against anti Semitism and prejudice and he has said this so many times, reflecting his own background under this heinous evil and understanding its potency," Rosen said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, has also recognized Ratzingerís anti-Nazi roots.

"The new ope, like his predecessor, was deeply influenced by the events of World War II. As a child, Pope Benedict XVI grew up in an anti-Nazi family. Nonetheless, he was forced to join the Hitler Youth movement," the group said this week.

John Allen, who wrote a biography of Ratzinger entitled, "Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vaticanís Enforcer of Faith," quoted him as saying his fatherís criticism of the Nazis meant the family had to move their home four times.

Rosen said the new pope had a deep understanding of how anti-Semitism was bound up in the complex history of the church.

"I think we can be very confident that he will be resolute in condemning anti-Semitism and doing all he can to combat it," Rosen said.