More than seven decades after the end of World War II, the German-born pope is meeting with Jewish leaders in the historic Reichstag parliament in what was once the heart of the Nazi capital.
Pictured: Pope Benedict XVI talks with the media on board an airplane as it flies over Germany on his way to Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Dieter Graumann, Germany’s top Jewish leader, however, refused to dramatize a meeting that could be considered historic – suggesting just how much Germany has changed in the decades since.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews responded to a question about its historic importance matter-of-factly.
“I think it is a wonderful sign that the pope is taking time right at the beginning of his busy schedule for us,” Graumann said.
“It is a signal of friendship, of big-heartedness and underlines that the relationship between the Roman Catholic church and Judaism has improved considerably in the past few decades,” said Graumann, who moved to Germany as a child from his birthplace of Israel. He was appointed the nation’s top Jewish leader last year.
Benedict’s four-day visit is the third to his homeland. During his first trip months after becoming pope in 2005, Benedict took time out of commitments to young Catholics gathered for World Youth Day to visit Cologne’s main synagogue. In 2006, he made a pastoral trip to his Bavarian homeland. That same year, he denounced the mass murder of Europe’s Jews during a visit to the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in neighboring Poland.
Yet Benedict, 84, angered many Jews in 2009 with the decision to rehabilitate a Holocaust denier as bishop along with three other clergymen, all members of the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X.
This move, along with his revival of a prayer for the conversion of Jews remain sore points that Graumann said he would not shirk from addressing during the meeting.
“I think that the level of friendship we share also demands that we address what hurts us,” Graumann said.
Still, the 61-year-old Jewish leader said he hoped the overwhelming message to emerge from the meeting would be positive.
“There is so much more that binds us, than divides us. As Catholics – as Christians – and Jews, we have very strong common roots,” Graumann said. “I think we need to say that more often, and louder.”
Source: Melissa Eddy, The Associated Press