VATICAN CITY (AFP) — A rabbi who became the first Jew to address a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday said his presence sent a "signal of hope" after a history of "blood and tears" between Christians and Jews.
"I deeply feel that standing here before you is very meaningful," Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the Grand Rabbi of Haifa, told the 253 bishops.
"It brings with it a signal of hope and a message of love, co-existence and peace for our generation, and for generations to come."
Cohen, who is co-president of a commission for dialogue between the Vatican and Israel, added: "There is a long, hard and painful history of the relationship between our people, our faith and the Catholic Church leadership and followers, a history of blood and tears."
The history of Christian persecution of Jews, including genocide, exile, pogroms, crusades and discrimination, goes back 2,000 years.
The Catholic Church laid the foundation for reconciliation between the two faiths during the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s which proclaimed the common "spiritual heritage" of Jews and Christians.
The rapprochement accelerated under Benedict's predecessor John Paul II, the first pope to pay an official visit to a synagogue, formally recognise Israel and make an official trip to the Jewish state.
John Paul also was the first to pray at the Auschwitz death camp in his native Poland and to formally repent for the Catholic Church's failure to adequately recognise and react to the Holocaust.
Benedict has continued the conciliatory steps taken by John Paul II to improve inter-faith relations, but has sometimes stumbled.
Most recently he allowed the reintroduction of a controversial Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jews.
However in April the German-born pontiff won some Jewish hearts and minds when he became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to visit a synagogue in the United States.
In his speech on Monday, Cohen also voiced Israel's outrage over remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the UN General Assembly last month, without naming him.
Israelis felt "deep shock at the terrible and vicious words of the president of a certain state in the Middle East in his speech" before the UN, Cohen said.
In the speech, Ahmadinejad said Israel "is on a definite slope to collapse and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters."
But he did not repeat previous comments that the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map."
Cohen said: "The false and malicious accusations, the threats and the anti-Semitic incitement have brought back to us the painful memory of the tragedy of our people, the victims of the Holocaust."
He added: "We hope to get your help as religious leaders ... to protect, defend and save Israel ... from the hands of its enemies."
Earlier Monday, the bishops stressed the importance of dialogue with Jews and Muslims.
"Today, bearing in mind the tragic history of the relations between Israel and the Church, we are invited ... to repair any injustice committed against the Jews," Quebec Archbishop Marc Ouellet told the bishops at the three-week gathering.
Ouellet, serving as rapporteur for the synod, also said dialogue with Muslims "is more important than ever in today's circumstances."
Muslims "are allies in the defense of human life and in the assertion of the social importance of religion," he said.
Relations with the Muslim world suffered a shock in 2006 when the pope appeared to link Islam with violence during an academic speech in his native Germany.
Benedict did much to repair the damage with a stunning conciliatory gesture during a visit to Turkey in November 2006 when he assumed an attitude of Muslim prayer in Istanbul's Blue Mosque.
The synod, the second such gathering to be presided over by Benedict since his election in 2005, will discuss Christian fundamentalism and the relationship between religion and science as well as Judaism and Islam.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »