Controversial Saint Invoked in Papal Call for Mideast Peace

In his latest call for peace in the Middle East, Pope John Paul II has invoked the name of Edith Stein — a Jewish convert to Catholicism who became a nun, was killed during the Holocaust and was later made a saint.

Stein, canonized in 1998 as Saint Teresa Benedetta della Croce, “died, along with her sister Rosa and many others of her people, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 9, 1942,” the pope told the faithful gathered at his summer residence outside Rome.

“We are seeing the life and dignity of human beings trodden upon in a violent manner right in the Holy Land, to which Saint Teresa Benedetta had a deep spiritual link,” the pope added Sunday.

The pope prayed for the intercession of Saint Teresa Benedetta so that “the political and military authorities in the conflicting sides will not lack good will, that they will bear in mind before God and history the urgency of silencing their arms, and that they reflect on the future of their peoples — a future that cannot be of hate, but of brotherhood; not of confrontation but of collaboration.”

Bemoaning the outbreak of “unheard-of brutality,” he also admitted that his earlier pleas for peace have gone unheeded.

In declaring Stein a saint in 1998, John Paul attempted to use her figure as a means of paying homage to Holocaust victims and promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue.

At the time, he called Stein both “an eminent daughter of Israel and a faithful daughter of the Church” and used the canonization to appeal for tolerance, dialogue and reconciliation.

He said Stein’s saint’s day each year — Aug. 9, the anniversary of her death — would be celebrated as a Holocaust memorial, to remind the world “of that bestial plan to eliminate a people, which cost millions of Jewish brothers and sisters their lives.”

Honoring Stein in this way, however, affronted some Jewish sensibilities.

Many Jews said that by making a Jewish convert to Catholicism a saint, the pope had offended the memory of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims.

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