Pope Benedict's Day of Atonement

By Gruber, Ruth Ellen | The New Leader (Online), January/February 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Pope Benedict's Day of Atonement

Gruber, Ruth Ellen, The New Leader (Online)


Few CROSSTOWN journeys have been loaded with more symbolism than the two-mile route Pope Benedict XVI took on January 17 from the Vatican to the Tempio Maggiore, Rome's main synagogue on the opposite side of the Tiber River.

Today Vatican City is a tiny enclave; outside its walls the pontiff wields only religious authority. But popes once presided over great swaths of territory. And, as Brown University scholar David I. Kertzer put it in The Popes Against the Jews (2001):

"Where the popes acted as temporal rulers . . . discrimination against Jews was public policy. Indeed, the Jews were consigned to ghettos, made to wear Jew badges on their clothes so all would know of their reviled status, and forbidden to have normal social interaction with their Christian neighbors. The popes and the Vatican worked hard to keep Jews in their subservient place - barring them from owning property, from practicing professions, from attending university, from traveling freely - and they did all this according to canon law and the centuries-old belief that in doing so they were upholding the most basic tenets of Christianity."

The short ride in his black limousine brought the pontiff to the site still known as "the Ghetto." Roman Jews were forced to live there until 1 870, when the last remnant of the Papal States was liberated by the Italian Risorgimento. Along the way Benedict passed through streets where ancientruins, centuries-old palazzi, soaring churches, and modern-day traffic and commerce form the variegated fabric of the ever evolving Eternal City.

He also passed places from which more than 1 ,000 Roman Jews were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz in October 1943, "under the windows of the pope," in the words of Rome's present Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, referring to wartime Pope Pius XII. And the limousine drove up to where Palestinian terrorists killed a two-year-old boy and wounded dozens of others in a 1 982 attack on the synagogue.

Benedict was just the second pope to make this trip. He followed his immediate predecessor, the Polish-born John Paul II, whose visit to the Tempio Maggiore in April 1986 marked the first time a pope had publicly set foot in any synagogue.

That visit came 2 1 years after the Second Vatican Council's landmark Nostra Aetate refuted the teaching that the Jews were collectively responsible for killing Jesus and opened the way to formal Jewish-Catholic dialogue. John Paul's embrace of Rome's then Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff was one of the signal images of his pontificate. Similarly, his declaration that the Jews are "our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way it can be said you are our elder brothers," exemplified the outreach to the Jewish world that was a hallmark of his papacy.

A friend of mine, a Vatican correspondent who covered the event, told me recently that nearly 24 years later she still feels the power ofthat moment. "It was John Paul's shortest trip, a 10-minute drive across the Tiber, but his most important, as far as I was concerned," she told me. "I still get shivers thinking back to the emotion there that day, especially when he got to the line about 'our dearly beloved brothers.'"

No one expected the same historic heights to be hit when Benedict entered the Tempio Maggiore, a tall, slightly oriental-looking building with a distinctive squared-off dome. For contacts and dialogue between Catholics and the Jewish world have flourished - albeit at times fitfully - since 1986. John Paul made it routine to meet with Jewish groups either at the Vatican or on his many voyages around the world. I vividly remember my own brief face time with him, as part of an American Jewish delegation in the mid- 1 990s. It was nearly a decade before his death, but he already was showing the signs of Parkinson's disease; he walked slowly and heavily into the Vatican hall to greet us. One by one, we were ushered up to shake his hand - an occasion immortalized by an official Vatican photographer, as was every papal encounter.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Pope Benedict's Day of Atonement


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?