Friday, January 08, 2010

A tightrope act? Pope prepares to visit Rome synagogue

The main synagogue in Rome, which Pope Benedict XVI will visit Jan. 17, is pictured Jan. 7. Built between 1901 and 1904, the synagogue is located in the former Jewish ghetto. It (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
January 8, 2010

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A cartoon in the January edition of an Italian Jewish newspaper showed Pope Benedict XVI crossing the Tiber River on a tightrope, trying to balance himself using a pole labeled "dialogue" on one end and "conversion" on the other.

As he prepared to cross the river and travel from the Vatican to Rome's main synagogue Jan. 17 no one pretended the journey was going to be easy.

There is continuing unease in the global Jewish community over Pope Benedict's decisions to advance the possible beatification of Pope Pius XII, to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-minimizing traditionalist bishop and to issue a revised prayer for the Jews in the Tridentine-rite Good Friday liturgy. The sensitivity to these actions is heightened in Rome.

Jews lived in Rome before Christ was born, and centuries of interaction between the city's Jewish community and the popes means Jewish-Vatican relations in the city have a unique history, much of it sad.

The staff of the Jewish Museum of Rome, located in the synagogue complex, is planning a special exhibit that will illustrate part of that history for Pope Benedict and for other visitors in the coming months.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is comprised of 14 decorative panels made by Jewish artists to mark the inauguration of the pontificates of Popes Clement XII, Clement XIII, Clement XIV and Pius VI in the 1700s.

For hundreds of years, the Jewish community was obliged to participate in the ceremonies surrounding the enthronement of new popes -- often in a humiliating manner.

Various groups in the city were assigned to decorate different sections of the pope's route between the Vatican and the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The Jewish community was responsible for the stretch of road between the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus, which celebrates the Roman Empire's victory over the Jews of Jerusalem in the first century. The Roman victory included the destruction of the Temple, Judaism's holiest site, and the triumphal arch depicts Roman soldiers carrying off the menorah and other Jewish liturgical items.


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