New Pope says he will visit a synagogue and pray in Hebrew

July 07, 2005

This is an update to dispatches earlier this year on the former and new popes, including:

* Iran bans Al-Jazeera (& note on the new pope’s stint in the Hitler youth) (April 19, 2005)
* Khatami denies, but Assad admits, Katsav handshake at Pope’s funeral (April 10, 2005)
* Iran says Pope was too close to “evil” Jews (April 7, 2005)
* A world record: 35,000 new stories on the Pope in 24 hours (April 5, 2005)
* Arab media coverage of Pope’s death infuriates Islamists (April 4, 2005)


[Note by Tom Gross]


Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will visit a synagogue in Cologne next month and recite prayers in Hebrew. (The synagogue was restored after it was destroyed by the Nazis.) The Pontiff is due to visit Cologne from August 18 21, for World Youth Day, a trip originally planned by the late John Paul II.

Since his election on April 19, Benedict XVI has reached out to Jews whilst denouncing the crimes of the Nazis.

Many outside the Vatican have expressed concern that the new pope served a stint as a member of the Hitler Youth in 1941, and they have asked questions about the fact that there is no evidence other than the pope’s own word for it, that this membership was “unenthusiastic.”

I wrote at the time of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s appointment as pope, that his Hitler Youth membership was compulsory and should not be held against him. Others have since criticized me, including a distinguished historian on this email list. He has outlined in some detail the unsatisfactory explanations given by Ratzinger in his biography for the months following his 1943-April 1944 service with a German army anti-aircraft unit (the workforce of which also included slaves from Dachau concentration camp) and the last few weeks of the war, which Ratzinger spent in an allied prisoner of war camp. It has been suggested that there are some inconsistencies about Ratzinger’s account of his activites during this period of almost a year in which he was in Hungary and Germany.


The Israeli communications minister, Dalia Itzik yesterday (July 6, 2005) became the first Israeli to meet Ratzinger since he became Pope. She presented him with the Israel Postal Authority’s commemorative stamp honoring the late Pope John Paul II. (Those of you who would like to see this stamp can do so at

The stamp commemorates John Paul II’s visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where he left a letter asking forgiveness for acts committed by Christians against Jews “throughout history.” Yesterday, German finance minister Hans Eichel also gave the Pope a special edition stamp on behalf of Germany that celebrates World Youth Day.


Dalia Itzik and Israeli government secretary Israel Maimon also presented Benedict with a letter from Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon inviting him to visit Israel. Oded Ben-Hur, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, quoted the Pontiff as saying “I already have a long list of commitments to visit foreign countries, but Israel has a priority”.

Below, I attach an article from the Associated Press (as published in USA Today, America’s highest circulation daily newspaper.)

-- Tom Gross




Pope will visit synagogue, pray in Hebrew, cardinal says
The Associated Press
USA Today
July 5, 2005

German-born Pope Benedict XVI will say prayers in Hebrew when he visits the synagogue in Cologne, Germany, that was destroyed by the Nazis, a cardinal organizing the trip said Tuesday.

Jewish representatives invited the pope to visit while he is in Germany in August for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day and Benedict replied, “I will come,” said Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

The visit will include a prayer service in which the psalms will be “prayed,” the cardinal said. “We have learned them in Hebrew.”

Since his April 19 election as pope, the German-born Benedict has reached out to Jews while denouncing crimes by the Nazis. He served in the Hitler Youth organization as a teen and later deserted from the German army in the waning days of World War II.

“We (the Germans) carry our wounds up to this day, and sometimes they are still bleeding wounds,” Meisner said of World War II and the Holocaust.

In that context, and that of the first German pope in 500 years, the cardinal said the visit becomes an “unequivocal symbol to our elder brothers and sisters” that the Holocaust “must never happen again.”

Jewish leaders have praised Benedict for his efforts to improve relations between Catholic and Jews during the many years Benedict worked in the Vatican before becoming pope.

Benedict will visit Cologne from Aug. 18-21, a trip originally planned by the late John Paul II.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.