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CNN Today

The Pope in the Holy Land: Pontiff Hopes to Cement Catholic Church's Reconciliation with Jews

Aired March 23, 2000 - 2:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Pope John Paul II had emotional words today for the six million victims of the Nazis. The pope's tour of the Holy Land took him to Israel's Holocaust memorial. John Paul expressed deep sadness, but did not specifically apologize for the church's silence during the Nazi's wartime atrocities.

Saturday, the pope will pray at the Western Wall, one of the Holy Land's most revered sites. There, the pontiff hopes to cement the Catholic Church's reconciliation with Jews.

Here's CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Walter Rodgers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): This site, the Western Wall, foundation of the historic Second Temple, symbolizes the Holy Land for Jews, and it is here Pope John Paul II was hoping to consummate Christian reconciliation with Judaism. Many Jews will see the popes visit to the wall as an historic moment, but Israel's chief rabbis refused to meet him here, saying the pope must come to them.

RABBI ARTHUR HERTZBERG, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: He will be going to the Western Wall as he went to the synagogue in Rome. This is a man, who as I read him, wants to get beyond the Polish kind of Catholicism, in which he was raised in his youth, narrow and anti-Semitic.

RODGERS: Throughout most of his papacy, John Paul has labored to erase centuries of Catholic anti-Semitism, most dramatically this 1986 visit to the synagogue in Rome. He helped change church dogma about Jews; no longer does his church teach that Jews killed Christ. By some counts, he personally apologized 35 times for his church's anti- Semitic past, publicly and repeatedly ruing the Holocaust.

RABBI DAVID ROSEN, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Certainly the Shoah, the Holocaust, is a profound factor that has determined his world outlook, and his sense that there is a certain responsibility in terms of Catholic reconciliation with the Jewish people.

RODGERS: Born Karol Wojtyla, in pre-war Poland, this pope grew up among Jews, sometimes attended synagogue, was a goalie on a Jewish soccer team, and was a seminarian near Auschwitz. RABBI MEIR LAU, ISRAELI CHIEF ASHKENAZI RABBI: He is the most friendly pope for the Jewish people, for the Jewishness as a religion, maybe because of the influence of Holocaust, which he faced in his very eyes.

RODGERS: It is with the this pope, Pius XII, that contemporary Judaism has its biggest problem with Catholicism. On the throne of St. Peter during World War II, his perceived non-action is seen by many Jews as contributing to the deaths of millions in the Holocaust.

HERTZBERG; The church, as a whole, failed in its duty to excommunicate the Nazis. It failed in its duty to say, during the Holocaust, the mass murder of Jews, about which it knew, is a sin, is a mortal sin.

RODGERS: Just as this pope visited the Auschwitz death camp, so he also asked to visit Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial.

ROSEN: What will go through his mind is a great sense of sadness and a great sense of pain and identification with Jewish suffering. But what will not go through his mind is, that I am part of a people who is -- was actually an accessory to this demonical barbarity.

RODGERS: That Pope John Paul II has claimed the Polish people and his church were also merely victims of Nazism has not sat well with Israeli Jews, many of whom believe some Poles were among the worst anti-Semites.

(on camera): But of more concern to Israeli Jews than another papal apology is recognition, they want a papal acknowledgment of what Jews see as their rightful place in the Holy Land.

RABBI DAVID HARTMAN, THE HARTMAN INSTITUTE: What the pope's visit to Israel symbolizes and represents in an important way is that the exile of the Jewish people is over. The Jewish people are no more a homeless people. The concept of the wandering Jew is over, and they have come home, and the pope is coming to their home to declare that, let us not look at this people as a homeless people under the curse of god.

RODGERS (voice-over): Fraternal reconciliation between Christians and Jews has begun, but theological accord has limits. The Catholic Church only recently acknowledged Christianity's Jewish roots. And while Jesus was perhaps the most famous Jew, many Israeli Jews have ambivalent, sometimes hostile feelings toward him still.

HERTZBERG: Are we going to resolve the difference between the Jewish conception of monotheism and the trinity? Is it resolvable? It's not resolvable from either side. What is resolvable is that we stop irritating each other?

RODGERS: Remembering the common thread between Christians and Jews will be a major papal theme here. As Martin Buber put it, "We share a common book and that is no small thing."

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Jerusalem. (END VIDEOTAPE)

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