ROME (JTA) – Pope Benedict XVI said Church authorities played an active role in saving Jews during the Holocaust, though "often hidden and discreet."
Italian Jewish leaders on Sunday welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Rome’s main synagogue for a visit they said would help strengthen relations between Jews and Catholics.
"Despite a dramatic history, the unresolved problems and the misunderstandings, it is our shared visions and common goals that should be given pride of place," Rome’s chief rabbi Riccardo Di Segni said Sunday, speaking to a packed sanctuary from in front of the ornate ark. "The image of respect and friendship that emanates from this encounter must be an example for all those who are watching."
In the weeks before the visit, Jewish-Catholic relations were strained by the pope’s decision to move World War II-era Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood. Critics accuse Pius of having turned a blind eye to Jewish suffering in the Shoah.
The president of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly boycotted the papal synagogue visit in protest.
In his speech, Rome Jewish Community President Riccardo Pacifici renewed calls for the Vatican to open its secret wartime archives to clarify the Pius issue. The pope did not mention Pius by name, but recalling the horrors of the Holocaust, he praised Catholic individuals for saving Jewish lives.
The 82-year-old pope was applauded repeatedly during his speech.
Memory of the Holocaust, he said, "compels us to strengthen the bonds that unite us so that our mutual understanding, respect and acceptance may always increase."
Benedict repeated the prayers for forgiveness for Catholic anti-Semitism made by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
Sunday’s visit was only the second time a pope had visited the synagogue. John Paul II’s visit in 1986 was a milestone in Catholic-Jewish dialogue.