Addressing rabbis from across Germany, Benedict said the two faiths, “hold in common a not insignificant part of their essential traditions.”
Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews, welcomed Benedict in a speech. “It is nice to be able to see clearly that the relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism has dramatically improved in recent decades,” Graumann said, addressing the pope. “And we are highly aware that you in particular have personally always considered reconciliation with Judaism to be important, in fact an absolute, matter of the heart.”
But the Jewish leader didn’t shy away form raising issues that have caused tension between Catholics and Jews. “There is still a lot to do, for all of us,” said Graumann. “And openness and friendship which are growing and are to grow further also include saying to one another and confessing frankly what hurts and burdens us.”
He was referring to the fact that the Jewish people were “hurt” by the readmission in 2009 of four bishops belonging to the Society of St. Pius X who had been excommunicated in 1988 and have expressed anti-Semitic beliefs.
Lala Suesskind, head of the Jewish Community in Berlin, who attended the meeting, agreed that this was a stumbling block. “We have a lot in common but there is also some things that make us worry, like the acceptance of Holocaust denial by the Pius brotherhood,” said Suesskind in an interview.
Graumann also listed the Friday prayers that Catholics traditionally hold for conversion of Jews and the beatification of Pope Pius XII, which he said would “further hurt our feelings and cause us disappointment.” Pope Pius XII held office during the World War II and has been criticized for not doing enough to help Jews during the Holocaust. In 2009, Benedict declared him venerable, a step on the way to canonization.
Benedict did not respond directly to any of these issues in his speech. But he did acknowledge that relations between the two faiths were less than perfect. “It is clear to us all that a loving relationship of mutual understanding between Israel and the church, each respecting the being of the other, still has further to grow and needs to be built into the heart of our proclamation of the faith,” Benedict said.
Suesskind said that as Benedict was meeting with members of other faiths as part of his tour, her organization took the invitation to meet as a “symbolic gesture,” but added, “also we appreciate and respect it very much.”
During his trip, Benedict will also meet with representatives of Islam and the Orthodox churches and on Sept. 23 was expected to lead an ecumenical service at the Augustinian monastery where Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Reformation, studied.
Benedict devoted much of his speech to the plight of Jews under Hitler’s Third Reich. After the meeting, he headed to Berlin’s Olympic Stadium to say Mass.
For many of the Germans gathered to worship there, the legacy of the Holocaust had not been forgotten. “With our history having a German pope – it’s like we have been forgiven,” said Fiona Domedy, an doctor’s assistant from Berlin.
Her mother, Katharina Jank-Domedy, an attorney who traveled from Dusseldorf, agreed. “It’s a good point in our bad history.” Both felt that the interfaith aspects of the tour were important. “In the end, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim – it’s one God we believe in and that’s all that matters,” said Domedy.