Benedict will become only the second pope to visit the synagogue — and the timing is more than mere coincidence

Pope Benedict will make his first visit to Rome’s Jewish synagogue in January, the Vatican said Tuesday.

Benedict, leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, will be only the second pope in history to visit the synagogue. Pope John Paul visited in 1986.

Benedict’s visit on January 17 will come almost exactly a year to the day after his decision to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denied the Holocaust brought Catholic-Jewish relations to one of their lowest points.

The German pope made a major trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories last May, during which he distanced himself from Holocaust deniers such as the ultra-traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson.

Since his election in 2005 Benedict has visited synagogues in his native Germany and in the United States.

But his visit to the synagogue on the Tiber is significant because relations between the Vatican and Rome’s Jewish community — the oldest in the diaspora — have often been considered a bellwether of Catholic-Jewish relations worldwide.

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