Praise For a Pope Who 'Brought Judaism and Christianity Closer'
Jewish leaders have paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI after this week's announcement that he was stepping down due to ill health.
The outgoing Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, who has met the Pope several times, said: "I saw him as a man of gentleness, of quiet and of calm, a deeply thoughtful and compassionate individual who carried with him an aura of grace and wisdom."
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The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger said the pontiff had improved ties between Judaism and Christianity. "During his term, the relations between Judaism and Christianity became much closer, which brought a decrease in anti-Semitic acts around the world," he said.
The World Jewish Congress meanwhile said that that the 85-year old had "elevated Catholic-Jewish relations onto an unprecedented level." It added: "No pope before him visited as many synagogues. No pope before him made more strides to improve the relationship with the Jews on so many levels."
Despite the Pope's outreach work, there were still wounds to heal, warned the Council of Christians and Jews. "Pope Benedict XVI made some determined efforts to improve relations between the Catholic Church, the world-wide Jewish community and the state of Israel," read a CCJ statement. "We welcomed this departure from centuries of ill-feeling. There are further bridges to be built between the two communities and we hope that whoever becomes the next Pope will further those aims."
The German-born leader of the Catholic Church has been no stranger to controversy in the UK and elsewhere, most notably for presiding over the fallout from an ongoing child abuse scandal and latterly for his butler leaking Vatican documents alleging corruption.
However, he endeared himself towards the world’s Jewish population, after his 2011 book 'Jesus of Nazareth' in which he exonerated the Jewish people for the death of Christ.
However Britain’s Jewish community will be more likely to recall Benedict's decision to lift the ex-communication of English cleric Richard Williamson, who said only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust and none perished in gas chambers. The Pope later expressed his regret, saying he had not known about Williamson's stance at the time.
Despite the conservative Benedict XVI's historic visit to predominantly Muslim Turkey, where he prayed in Istanbul's Blue Mosque, the outgoing Vatican head was reminded by reformist former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami that the wounds between Christians and Muslims were still "very deep" as a result of the Pope's 2006 Regensburg speech, in which he quoted an emperor as saying 'Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhumane.'
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