Thursday, April 10, 2008


Following weeks of international Jewish-Catholic disputes over a controversial Good Friday prayer, Jewish and Catholic leaders in this country are looking for a good Friday, preceded by a good Thursday — days when Pope Benedict XVI has scheduled meetings with the Jewish community — to restore the improving tenor of interfaith dialogue.

During the upcoming six-day trip of Benedict XVI to the United States on his first papal mission here, he will briefly visit Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side on the afternoon of Friday, April 18, and will meet 50 Jewish leaders in Washington the previous day after a meeting with 150 representatives of several faiths.

The high-visibility Jewish appearances, say spokesmen in the Jewish and Catholic communities, are designed to allay

Jewish fears over the pope’s reintroduction of pro-conversion language in the Latin Mass, and to serve as a symbolic sign of the Vatican’s concern over Jewish feelings.

Benedict XVI, who succeeded John Paul II three years ago, will visit the U.S. under the cloud of the Latin Mass controversy, a controversy that is unlikely to deter the overall improvement in Jewish-Catholic relations since the Vatican II advances in the early 1960s, according to several veterans of interfaith dialogue.

“The good news is that this pope wasn’t John Paul II’s right-hand man for nothing,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem-based international director of interreligious affairs. “He’s deeply committed to the Catholic-Jewish relationship.

“Overall,” Rabbi Rosen said in a telephone interview, “relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people have never been better. There is a solid foundation. No particular issue is going to set back the advancements of the last 45 years.”

Rabbi Rosen said a statement issued by the Vatican this week about the changes in the Latin Mass — the Vatican claims that the new text does not indicate a renewed Catholic interest in conversion of Jews — is “an important clarification,” but is not totally satisfactory. “It is implicit in the statement that ‘esteem and solidarity’ imply that proselytism is inappropriate but I would have been happier if this had been said explicitly.”

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