insidethevatican - Jan 14, 2010
Tragedy and Hope
In Haiti, a January 12 earthquake kills thousands. In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI prepares to visit the city's Jewish synagogue on January 17. Will the visit spark controversy?
By Robert Moynihan, reporting from America
Tragedy in Haiti
We begin with sorrow.
We mourn the dead and injured in the terrible Haitian earthquake of Tuesday afternoon, January 12, and try to grasp the full dimensions of the tragedy which has left so many thousands dead and injured.
In coming days, we will be publishing Pope Benedict XVI's and the Vatican's reactions to the shocking suffering and loss of life in Haiti, and news of what the Church is doing in that country.
Meanwhile, we have for some time been reflecting on the issues surrounding the significant visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Jewish synagogue of Rome coming this Sunday, January 17.
We had been preparing to publish those reflections this week, prior to the visit, and do so below, even as the Haitian earthquake seems to set all other matters in a rather different and less important light.
Regarding Haiti, in response to those who ask -- as we ourselves ask -- how the tragedy and loss of innocent life can be reconciled with the goodness of God, we draw on a phrase we found on the First Things website: "Some will say 'where is God in all of this?' The answer, of course, is that God is in the response."
Here is a link to reports about the Haitian tragedy, and Catholic relief efforts in Haiti, including some reliable addresses where readers can send donations to help: News of tragedy in Haiti, and Catholic relief efforts.-- The Editor
Storm Clouds Over Benedict
Increasing clouds have been gathering for days over Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome on January 17th, casting a shadow on what was planned as a meeting to improve Catholic-Jewish understanding.
John Paul II (1978-2005) had initiated this gesture of reconciliation in 1986, being the first pontiff to visit a synagogue since the time of the apostles.
When Benedict was invited by Rome’s rabbis to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, he clearly accepted in hopes of raising the often tense relationship to a higher level of discourse.
But since December 19th, when Benedict signed a decree advancing Pope Pius XII’s cause for beatification, and ultimately canonization, there has been a carefully programmed media campaign against him.
Sadly, this campaign is based largely upon myth, historical amnesia, and anti-papal propaganda. We have gone over this material many times in recent years, but since the same charges keep being raised against Pope Pius, despite the evidence, we feel it necessary to present the evidence yet again.
Petition and Response
On January 11th, Reuters reported that a group of American Jews attending a "Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants" planned this week to petition Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, to use the opportunity of Benedict's January 17 visit to Rome's synagogue to decry Benedict’s December 19 decision to declare Pope Pius XII "Venerable" and set him on the road to canonization as a Catholic saint.
(Here is the complete Reuters story as it appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1142031.html)
The group wishes to have Di Segni, or one of his representatives, convey their concerns to Pope Benedict during the visit. The petition reads in part: “The group appeals to you to convey our pain and emotion to Pope Benedict when he is received by you at the main synagogue on Sunday... Truth and memory must be vigorously affirmed. The historical record of Pius’s silence during the period of Nazi barbarism against the Jewish people is a signal of moral failure. Our repeated pleas that Vatican assertions that Pius acted to save Jewish lives be documented through the opening of relevant archives have been met with silence.”
At this time, it is unclear whether Rabbi Di Segni will mention this petition.
But we feel the petitioners, even if in good faith, hold inaccurate and distorted views both on the Holy See's statements about Pius and his pontificate, and on the historical truth about Pius' response to the tragedy of the Holocaust. Hence, this brief report to clarify the facts.
The petitioning organization, which does not claim to represent all Holocaust survivors, misrepresents Pius XII’s actual record of constant help for the victims of the Third Reich’s murderous racial policies.
And this was well known at the time, and not just by Catholics, but by many Jews and their representatives.
On November 29, 1945, a large group of Jewish survivors came to the Vatican, specifically "to thank His Holiness personally for the extraordinary generosity which he had shown them when they were persecuted during the frightful period of Nazi-Fascism.”
Pius XII embraced them, saying: “The Holy See, faithful to the eternal principles, never has agreed, not even in the most hazardous moments, with concepts which the history of civilization will range among the most deplorable and ignominious aberrations of human thinking and feeling. Your presence here is meant to be an expression of gratitude from men and women who have experienced that in the exercise of charity, the Catholic Church and her real children know how to rise above the narrow and arbitrary limits drawn by human selfishness and race hatred.” (Angelic Shepherd: the Life of Pope Pius XII, by Jan Olav Smit, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1950, p. 154)