Vatican Update
[MAR. 23, 2000]
Catholic World News Service




JERUSALEM ( -- In an emotional appearance at Yad Vashem,
the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Pope John Paul II emphasized that "
the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love, is deeply
saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism
directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place."

Early in the morning of March 23, the Holy Father met with Israeli President
Ezer Weizman to discuss the peace process. The meeting was friendly, and
the Pope smiled readily as he met with Weizman and his wife.

But as he arrived at Yad Vashem, the Pontiff's face was grave. He stopped to
pray in silence for several moments before laying a floral wreath in front of
an eternal flame in the memorial's Hall of Remembrance. Accompanied by
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Pope also met with a number of
Holocaust survivors. Among the several hundred people present for the
occasion was Jerzy Kluger, a Jewish boyfriend friend of the Pope's. Many of
the spectators wept freely as the Pope completed his tour and made his
"In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme
need for silence," the Pope remarked. "Silence because there are no words
strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah."

Recalling that he had lived with Jewish friends and neighbors as a young
boy, and seen many of them disappear, the Pope continued: "I have come to
Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who-- stripped
of everything, especially of human dignity-- were murdered in the
Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain."

The Pope continued: "No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can
diminish its scale. We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a
purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the
millions of innocent victims of Nazism."

Implicitly rejecting the widespread complaint that the Holocaust was a
consequence of Christian contempt for the Jews, the Pope asked: "How could
man have such utter contempt for man?" Then he answered his own
question: "Because he had reached the point of contempt for God. Only a
godless ideology could plan and carry out the extermination of a whole

The Pope praised the Christians-- recognized in Yad Vashem as the
"righteous Gentiles"-- who had helped to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.
Then he added: "In this place of solemn remembrance, I fervently pray that
our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in the 20th
century will lead to a new relationship between Christians and Jews."

"Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes
and terrible crimes of the past," the Pope said. "Let us build a new future in
which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-
Christian feeling among Jews."

In his official response to the Pope's remarks, Prime Minister Barak praised
John Paul, saying "You have done more than anyone else to bring about the
historic change in the attitude of the Church toward the Jewish people, and
to dress the gaping wounds that festered over many bitter centuries."



JERUSALEM ( -- At a meeting with the religious leaders of the
three major faiths represented in Jerusalem, Pope John Paul II said that
inter-religious cooperation could be "an immense benefit" for "the cause of
peace in the region."

The Pope spoke to a March 23 meeting of Christians, Jews, and Muslims at
the Notre Dame Center in the Old City of Jerusalem. Addressing an overflow
crowd in an audience that fits 500 people, he said: "We are truly entering
into a new era of inter-religious dialogue."

Flanked by Rabbi Meir Lau, a leader of the Ashkenazic Jewish community;
and Taizir al Tamin, the head judge of the top Palestinian Muslim tribunal,
the Pope repeated his frequent assurances that he understands how the city
of Jerusalem is held as sacred by the representatives of the three great
monotheistic faiths. He also admitted: "We understand all the
misunderstandings and conflicts of the past, and we now that they still bear
a heavy influence on relations among Jews, Christians, and Muslims."

"However," the Pope continued, believers of all these faiths must find "in our
respective religious traditions" the understanding and the desire to work
toward mutual understanding. He suggested that a keen awareness of past
offenses should help religious leaders to understand the need to cooperate in
building a new climate of mutual respect.

"The Catholic Church wishes to pursue sincere and fruitful inter-religious
dialogue with people of the Jewish faith and with the faithful of Islam," the
Pope said. He added that dialogue should not be seen as a sort of gambit, or
an attempt ultimately to impose one set of religious beliefs, but an attempt
to work together toward an understanding of the truth-- as well as an effort
to cooperate for the welfare of society.

The Pope sidestepped one political controversy, after the Islamic leader
Taizir al Tamin welcomed him to Jerusalem, identifying the city as "the
eternal capital of the Muslims and the Palestinians." That claim was
diametrically opposed to the claims frequently made by Israeli hosts during
the Pope's trip-- the claim that Jerusalem is "the eternal capital of Israel."
The Pope--who has frequently voiced his own preference for an
international accord that would guarantee full access to Jerusalem for all
believers-- simply said that the city should be known as "the city of peace."



JERUSALEM ( -- Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on March
23 in the Cenacle-- the "upper room" in Jerusalem that is believed to be the
site of the Last Supper.

The building in which the Cenacle is located is administered by the Israeli
government. There is a "lower room," said to mark the tomb of King David,
which is the object of pilgrimages for Jewish believers; the building is also
the site of a 14th century Franciscan convent.

The Cenacle itself is a small Gothic chapel which also dates back to the 14th
century. There the Holy Father concelebrated Mass with a dozen bishops
from the Holy Land. After the Mass, John Paul spoke of the "profound
emotion" he felt as he said the words of Consecration in the place where they
were first said by Jesus himself. The Pope observed that the Eucharist,
instituted in that spot, is "the greatest treasure of the Church."

The Holy Father also indicated that as he celebrated the Mass at the Cenacle,
he was thinking of all the world's priests. Each year, the Pope addresses a
letter to the priests of the world, usually signed on Holy Thursday as the
Church celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist. This year, John Paul
signed the letter after his Mass at the Cenacle.

The Pope also observed that he was keenly aware of his role as the successor
to St. Peter. "In a certain sense," he said, "Peter and the apostles, through
their successors, have come to the upper room of the Cenacle again today to
profess the eternal faith of the Church: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ
will come again."


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