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Menorah erected at Vatican site; Pope receives miniature version

VATICAN CITY, April 14 (JTA) — A four-foot tall, six-branched menorah designed to commemorate the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust was permanently placed Tuesday in a garden that belongs to the Vatican. A 12-inch miniature of the menorah, designed by Israeli sculptor Aaron Bezalel, was presented to Pope John Paul II at his general audience the following day. The dedication ceremony on Tuesday — Yom Hashoah — was attended by senior Roman Catholic officials and Jewish leaders from the United States, who called the permanent placement of the menorah a further step in continuing Catholic-Jewish dialogue. “It is another milestone along the way,” said Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Dialogue with the Jews. “Not many years ago, no one could have imagined this.” The menorah was placed in the gardens of the Pontifical North American College, a seminary that stands outside St. Peter’s, but belongs to the Vatican. The project was sponsored by the New York-based Interreligious Information Center and the Center for Interreligious Understanding at Ramapo College in New Jersey. The menorah design incorporates the figures of six men and six women holding the torches for candles, while a figure with a prayer book stands before them, praying that humanity will never again bring a holocaust against Jews or any other people. The base of the menorah is a Star of David, cracked in the center and inscribed with the years 1933-1945 and the first few Hebrew letters of the Kaddish, the prayer recited for the dead. At the ceremony, Cassidy commented on the furor that erupted after a February speech in which he warned that “aggressive” anti-church attitudes by some Jewish organizations threaten Jewish-Catholic relations. Cassidy said his speech had been “interpreted as being angry, frustrated, even slamming the World Jewish Congress. “This was far from my mind,” he said. “It was the expression of concern about anything that takes us backwards, concern at the insensitivity that some organizations have.” A source close to Cassidy said the menorah ceremony was aimed at emphasizing a switch in the Vatican’s Jewish dialogue partners from secular political bodies to religious groups and scholars. A meeting of all U.S. Jewish organizations dealing with Catholic-Jewish dialogue has been called in New York for Thursday in direct response to that speech, which was prepared for a conference in Baltimore.