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Pope comes under criticism in Israel
Tue May 12, 2009 11:01am EDT
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By Philip Pullella and Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The speaker of Israel's parliament accused German-born Pope Benedict on Tuesday of showing detachment from Jewish suffering in the Nazi Holocaust, adding to criticism that has marked his Holy Land pilgrimage.
The pontiff, described by one Israeli newspaper columnist as coming across as "restrained, almost cold," prayed at Judaism's Western Wall and visited Islam's Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem holy sites at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Citing what he called Benedict's teenage membership in the Hitler Youth and German military service, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin berated the pope over Monday's address at Israel's Yad Vashem memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
"He came and told us as if he were a historian, someone looking in from the sidelines, about things that should not have happened. And what can you do? He was a part of them," Rivlin told Israel Radio.
At the Yad Vashem ceremony, the pope spoke of the "horrific tragedy of the Shoah," the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, but disappointed some Jewish religious leaders who said he should have apologized as a German and a Christian for the genocide.
Asked about the criticism of the Yad Vashem speech, Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the pope had addressed the issue of his nationality many times in the past, notably during a visit to the Auschwitz death camp in 2006:
"He did not think that every time he has to repeat in every speech all the points about the tragedy of the Holocaust."
In what appeared to be an attempt to rally to the pope's defense, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said he was certain the pontiff subscribed to the prayer Pope John Paul II placed in the Western Wall nine years ago in which he asked for God's forgiveness for suffering caused to Jews over the centuries.
In the prayer he slotted into a stone crevice of the remnant of the Roman-era Jewish Temple complex, Pope Benedict mentioned in general terms "the suffering and the pain of all your people throughout the world" and called for peace in the Middle East.
Rivlin said that "with all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the burden he bears, as a young German who joined the Hitler Youth and as a person who joined Hitler's army, which was an instrument in the extermination."
In an autobiography, "Salt of the Earth," the future pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote that he was registered in the Hitler Youth by his seminary, and never went back to the group after ending his religious studies there.
He said that along with other seminarians he was conscripted into an anti-aircraft unit, serving from August 1943 to September 1944. Afterwards, following what he called a "relatively harmless" service in the infantry, he was sent home by a sympathetic officer and taken prisoner by U.S. forces.
At the Dome of the Rock, the pope met the Grand Mufti, the Palestinians' senior Muslim cleric, and recalled the common roots of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The Dome stands at the spot where all three great monotheistic religions believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son to God, before an angel stayed his hand. King Solomon and his successors built Jewish temples there before the Romans razed the Second Temple in 70 AD and Jews scattered in exile. Continued...
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