Pope Benedict’s resignation is sending shockwaves through Catholic communities worldwide. It also brings sadness and loss to the Jewish community.
Despite early concerns with the Pope’s childhood participation in the Hitler youth, he has been an extraordinary leader, reaching out to the Jewish community and addressing shared concerns with intelligence and moral passion.
The Pope and the Jewish People
1. During his visit to Auschwitz, the most notorious Nazi death camp in Poland, Pope Benedict said of the Nazis, “By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the tap root of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention.”
2. He was the first Pope to visit an American synagogue, meeting with on the eve of Passover with Rabbi Arthur Schneir, a Holocaust survivor and Orthodox rabbi.
3. When controversy arose after a decision to allow greater use of a traditional Latin Mass that suggested proselytizing Jews, the Pope met with Jewish leaders and reaffirmed the Church’s understanding of Jews’ unique relationship with God that has holiness without conversion.
Leader for People of All Faiths
As a global spiritual leader, the Pope also addressed critical issues confronting people of all faiths. His central task was confronting an increasingly cruel world driven by globalization, economic uncertainty and militant atheism.
In an address given in Rome before a meeting with the Pope, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks described this world eloquently.
“Today, in a Europe more secular than it has been since the last days of pre-Christian Rome, the culprits are
- an aggressive scientific atheism tone deaf to the music of faith;
- a reductive materialism blind to the power of the human spirit;
- global corporations uncontrollable by and sometimes more powerful than national governments;
- forms of finance so complex as to surpass the understanding of bodies charged with their regulation;
- a consumer-driven economy that is shriveling the imaginative horizons of our children;
- a fraying of all the social bonds, from family to community, that once brought comfort and a redemption of solitude, to be replaced by virtual networks mediated by smartphone, whose result is to leave us “alone together.”
These remain concerns for all of us. The task of every faith leader is to make a home for God here on earth.
In meeting this task and overcoming its challenges, the Pope’s voice of intellect and conviction will be greatly missed. May God continue to bless him with life and strength.
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