Pope Benedict XVI met with a group of Jewish leaders in Washington.
Some 50 Jewish communal leaders and organizational officials participated in an interfaith gathering Thursday with Benedict and roughly 150 represenatives of other faiths. During the meeting he was presented with the gift of a menorah by B’nai B’rith International Director of Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels.
Afterwards, the Jewish delegation broke off for a private audience with the pope. During the private meeting, Benedict offered short greetings for Passover, which begins Saturday at sundown.
“At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what Nostra Aetate calls Christians to remember always: that the Church ‘received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles,'” read the text of of the pope’s address to the Jewish community. The pope added: “In addressing myself to you I wish to re-affirm the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the Church’s commitment to the dialogue that in the past forty years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.”
Participants said the pope did not deliver the full text of his remarks in person, which were distributed in writing and published on the Web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They also noted that the mood was cordial and respectful and that contentious issues, such as the pope’s recent revival of a prayer for Jewish conversion, were not raised.
“This was an occasion important for its symbolism and not for its substance,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “This was a staged occasion. There was no chance there was going to be a substantive discussion of the issues. That’s not what happens at these events.”
Jewish participants said it the fact that the Vatican had arranged for a separate meeting with them, apart from the larger interfaith gathering, was a sign of the church’s positive intentions. Benedict reportedly referred to the Jewish community as the “elder brothers and sisters” of Christians and to the common spiritual heritage of both faiths.
Benedict is slated to make his first visit to an American synagogue Friday, when he visits the Park East Synagogue in New York City before departing for Rome later that evening.