2000: Pope prays for Holocaust forgiveness – BBC Report
Pope John Paul II has prayed for forgiveness of the sins of those involved in the Holocaust.
However, he avoided any admission of Church “guilt” over alleged complicity.
Since arriving in Israel as part of his Millennium Pilgrimage, the Pope has been under growing pressure to apologise for the Vatican’s failure to speak out during the Holocaust.
The 79-year-old placed a prayer into the crevices of the Western (or Wailing) Wall, asking for God’s forgiveness for “the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer”.
“I assure the Jewish people the Catholic Church … is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place,” the Pope said.
The pontiff added that there were “no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy” of the Holocaust.
A spokesman for the pontiff said he had paused for a moment of private prayer – “something personal” – and laid a hand on the wall.
By placing his prayer, which was typewritten and signed by the Pope, in the wall he echoed the custom of Jewish worshippers over generations.
The prayer was taken from the wall by a government spokesman and placed in the archives of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial for the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.
Israeli cabinet minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, who hosted the Pope’s visit, said he was “very moved” by the Pope’s gesture.
The Pope is visiting the most sacred sites in Jerusalem at the climax of his week-long Millennium Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He is the first pontiff to go there in 36 years.
John Paul II had repeatedly said he had dreamt of visiting the region since he was elected pontiff in 1978.
The visit to the holiest site of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, saw around 7,000 Israeli security forces deployed in the ancient city.
City police arrested several extreme right-wing Jewish residents amid fears of disturbances.
Earlier, the pontiff visited the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest Islamic shrine. He was greeted by the top Islamic cleric in Jerusalem and other Palestinian clerics and dignitaries.
Outside the mosque, more than a dozen Muslim protesters screamed at PLO officials after they met the pontiff.
In L’Osservatore Romano, March 22, 2000, Rabbi Michael Melchior wrote:
“Pope John Paul II approached the Western Wall holding a written prayer which
acknowledges the unbroken covenant between the Jewish people and God.
Furthermore, he beseeches God’s forgiveness for the pain inflicted by the Christian Community on the people elected by God. It was an extraordinary moment.
The Pope touched the Western Wall. From a location directly behind the Pope, I sensed that something unforeseen was about to happen. As I accompanied the Pope to the podium my perception was that the Pontiff was as if magnetized by the power of the Western Wall. When he touched the Wall I sensed that the Wall was indeed moving in the Pontiff ’s direction and was coming to touch him.
For Melchior, this was a seminal moment in Jewish-Christian relations:
It was as if a door, closed for so many centuries, was starting to open to reconciliation and peace among Christians and Jews. The mass media immortalized this historic event for more than a half million viewers worldwide.
I thought about the many times other doors have been opened, over the course of centuries, by Jewish people facing great dangers. A few minutes earlier, when I had spoken to the Pope on behalf of the Israeli Government, I reminded the Pope that “thousands of centuries of history are looking down . . . from the highest mountain.”
I really felt that it was the right time to invoke our memories regarding the suffering of the Jewish people. I wanted to reinforce the point that past persecutions can and should be the prelude to a new type of accord between a people and their religion. I said: “We cannot pervert religious value to justify war.” We cannot invoke God’s name to harm those who are created in His image. Today a new era is beginning, in which we are to follow the ancient paths and start building new roads that lead to peace among all religions. God’s faith will be the symbol of peace and fraternity among all nations, the symbol of justice and care for all of God’s suffering creation.”
Prayer and Reflection: The Pope’s action, and Melchior’s reflection, do little to put right the wrongs done in the name of Jesus by his so-called followers. Yet they are a small start, a beginning, a symbolic gesture that says much. May each of us be baalei t’shuvah, masters of repentance, and may we live in reconciliation with our neighbours, friends and enemies. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.