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Pope Calls on German Catholics to Combat Racism, Anti-semitism

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In the face of mounting xenophobia in Germany, Pope John Paul II has launched a strong appeal to German Catholics to combat racism and to defend Jews from anti-Semitism.

In an 11-page speech Saturday to bishops from the former East Germany, the pope called racism and anti-Semitism “violations of human rights.”

“Dear brothers,” he said, “you must work wholeheartedly to impede the racist nationalist tendencies which are spreading, above all among young people, and which endanger the image of Germany.”

He warned that the “indifference and apathy” of Christians in the face of racist violence is no less dangerous than the violence itself.

“In this regard,” he said, “I want to urge you to work in a particular way to protect your fellow Jewish citizens. The violation of synagogues and the attacks on commemorative monuments which, given their painful history, are of great importance to the Jews, can never be tolerated.”

He said, “You should thus work so that your Jewish fellow citizens do not become discouraged, and that they remain in your homeland, which is also theirs.”

The pope said it is not enough to “warn against these violations of human rights,” but stressed that the “dangerous motivations” behind them must be condemned.

These, he said, include the economic crisis, unemployment, and the continuation from the Communist era of an atheist and materialist mentality.

Commentators in Rome said the pope’s speech was extremely important within the framework of the ongoing improvement in Jewish-Catholic relations, as well as in the Vatican’s view of contemporary events.

“It is witness to the concern with which the Holy See views the situation in the countries of Eastern Europe, countries in which the economic crisis and the abandonment of religious practice are significantly links,” wrote Sandro Berrettoni in the Italian daily La Stampa.

The pope’s support for the Jews came on the eve of the publication of the Catholic Church’s new catechism, which includes a denunciation of the Holocaust and a definitive rejection of the description of Jews as “Christ-killers.”

It also came only two days after the pontiff met with World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman, during a regular session of a joint Jewish-Vatican commission on Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

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