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Saturday, January 16, 2010

B16 at the Great Synagogue of Rome

- Great Synagogue of Rome

Tomorrow the pope is scheduled to visit the Great Synagogue of Rome. David Gibson has a good article on this and the issues surrounding it - The Jewish-Catholic Crisis: How Bad is it -- and Why? TIME also has a briefer article on this. Here's the beginning of it ......

Amid Tension, Pope Will Pay Visit to Synagogue

When Pope John Paul II stepped into Rome's central synagogue on April 13, 1986, the man in white was met by a thunderclap of applause. After centuries of Jews suffering through pogroms, ghettos, Nazi death camps and arm's-length-at-best cohabitation with Christians, the first-ever papal visit to a Jewish house of worship — entering the synagogue side by side with Rome's avuncular chief Rabbi Elio Toaff — was much more than a photo op. It was a shared embrace to begin to heal the wounds of history.

Still, the momentous visit 24 years ago, during which John Paul referred to Jews as Christians' "older brothers," could never fully erase that history. And indeed, when John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI, crosses the Tiber River on Sunday to visit that same synagogue, he will be dogged by a new dispute about the past: the controversy over the Vatican's decision last month to push for possible sainthood for World War II-era Pope Pius XII, whom some Jewish groups and scholars blame for not doing enough to try to halt the Holocaust. Because of this and other tensions in the five years of his papacy, Benedict may be met by slightly more tepid applause from his Jewish hosts. One of Italy's leading rabbis, Giuseppe Laras, said he would boycott the service, citing a number of sore points with the Pope, most notably his decision to reactivate Pius XII's sainthood dossier .......

Here's a bit about the Rome Synagogue from Wikipedia ....

The Great Synagogue of Rome (Italian: Tempio Maggiore di Roma) is the largest synagogue in Rome. The Jewish community of Rome goes back to the second century BC when Judea had an alliance with the Roman Empire under the leadership of Judah Maccabeus. ..... The building was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870, when the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome and the Papal States ceased to exist. The Roman Ghetto [Papal bull Cum nimis absurdum, promulgated by Pope Paul IV in 1555 segregated the Jews, who had lived freely in Rome since Antiquity, in a walled quarter with three gates that were locked at night] was demolished and the Jews were granted citizenship ..... Designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni, the synagogue was built from 1901 to 1904 on the banks of the Tiber, overlooking the former ghetto ..... The aluminium dome is the only squared dome in the city and makes the building easily identifiable even from a distance. Commemorative plates honour the local Jewish victims of Nazi Germany and of a Palestine Liberation Organization attack in 1982. On 13 April 1986, Pope John Paul II made an unexpected visit to the Great Synagogue. This event marked the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue since the early history of the Roman Catholic Church .....

- interior of the Synagogue

As you guys know, I've written oh so many posts on why Pius XII should not be made a saint, so I won't go into the arguments here but simply say (again) that I think his refusal to speak out publicly against the Holocaust disqualifies him. Unfortunately, Benedict has deteriorated Catholic-Jewish relations not only with the press for Pius' sainthood, but with the restoration of the Latin Mass and the de-excommunication of the SSPX bishops as well.

This visit by Benedict to the Rome Synagogue reminds me of one of Daniel Silva's novels, The Confessor, in which the pope chosen after JPII's death is not Joseph Ratzinger but the Patriarch of Venice who takes the name Paul VII and who plans to visit the Rome Synagogue where he will both announce the opening of the secret Vatican archives on Pius XII, and will publicly apologize for the Catholic Church's history of anti-Semitism ..... needless to say, Vatican officials try to assassinate him first :)

I guess it's too much to hope that tomorrow life will imitate art and Benedict will follow in the footsteps of the fictional Pope Paul VII of The Confessor, but I do wish he would.


Blogger Fran said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post Crystal.

What a difficult and challenging path we find in Catholic-Jewish relations. I myself am the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. I am very close, deeply attached to my Jewish roots and as may detect from our internet connection, immersed in my Catholic faith.

I doubt that we will ever know what happened with Pius XII and what he did or did not do. What concerns me so deeply about that is that the secrecy states that there is something to hide. I would imagine that there is.

JPII was a great pope for the Jews and that was something that was born out of his worldview. Sadly, to me anyway, there are other elements of his worldview that created the parts of today's Church that are so challenging.

B16 has his own worldview. People are quick to accuse him of being a Nazi; that is far too simplistic. And I do not think that it is even true.

He is about something different, a kind of unity and reshaping of the Roman Catholic Church. This causes him, in my opinion, to reach out to the edge as he sees it, such as the SSPX and the disaffected Anglicans. It also causes him to understand Judaism in a different and seemingly less possible light.

The whole thing is a challenge and I struggle daily. Sorry to run on here, what a rant!

7:05 AM  
Blogger Mike L said...

Fran, I don't think of your post as a rant, in fact, I think it is an extremely well thought out description of the situation. I had not thought of it in terms of the pope's world view, and that idea opens a lot of new avenues.

While I do not view Benedict as a Nazi, I cannot help but think growing up in Nazi Germany had some effect on his outlook on Jews.

I know I was raised with certain prejudices, certain likes and dislikes, a certain world view that is very difficult to overcome. How should we be judged for having this or that world view?

And I also agree, we will never, at least in this life, know what really happened, or why.


Mike L

8:29 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Like Mike said, you didn't rant :) You must have a unique perspective with your Jewish and Catholic background. You're kinder to Benedict than me - I do see him reaching out to the edges but only to the conservative edges, and given his resoration of the Latin Mass, his actions with the SSPX bishops, and this pushing of Pius' sainthood, I'd say that whether he is actually anti-Semetic or not, he acts as if he is.

12:31 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


We do grow up with a world view - me too. I'd hope that we'd try to question and challenge that world view as we mature, especially if like Benedict, we're in a position of so much power over others.

Yeah, we'll probably never know why Pius didn't speak out or all the detail of what he did or didn't do, but I keep thinking in that case, why pick such a questionable person for sainthood?

12:35 PM  
Blogger Fran said...

You are both most kind to me... and I don't know that I am kind to Benedict; I just try to hold him in a detached way before me. I do tend to get very angry if I let myself. I am not against anger, but this anger just agitates, it neve satisfies.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Fran said...

Crystal - slightly off (but not completely) topic, have you seen this post?

7:34 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the link. I hadn't seen that article. I'm shamefully ignorant of Haiti's history - I only just read about the Haitian Revolution today. Interesting.

8:43 PM  

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