Pope’s prayer change disappoints Jews, some traditionalist Catholics

Pope Benedict with Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger in Castelgandolfo, Italy, 15 Sept. 2005/poolPope Benedict’s decision to change a Latin prayer for Jews at Good Friday services has disappointed Jews who wanted more change. It has also left some traditionalist Catholics uneasy, because many wanted no change. Both groups were expecting the decision, because Good Friday is coming soon (March 21) and it will be the first Good Friday since the Pope authorised wider use of the old Latin missal. That missal speaks of the “blindness” of the Jews and asks God to “remove the veil from their hearts.” The new wording says “Let us also pray for the Jews. So that God our Lord enlightens their hearts so that they recognize Jesus Christ savior of all men.” It also asks God that “all Israel be saved.”

Reactions are still coming in but here are a few from both sides.

Some initial reactions from Jewish groups and blogs:

Jews read the Torah in a Moscow synagogue, 12 Jan. 2006/Alexander NatruskinAmerican Jewish Committee international director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi David Rosen: “While we appreciate that the text avoids any derogatory language towards Jews, its regretful that the prayer explicitly calls for Jews to accept Christianity. This differs greatly from the text in the current universal liturgy that prays for the salvation of the Jews in general terms. We hope that through further dialogue, the full implications of the Second Vatican Council’s affirmation of the Jewish covenant might lead to a deeper understanding of the value of the Torah as the vehicle of salvation for the Jewish people.”

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman: “While we appreciate that some of the deprecatory language has been removed from a new version of the Good Friday prayer for the Conversion of Jews in the 1962 Roman Missal, we are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact. Alterations of language without change to the 1962 prayer’s conversionary intent amount to cosmetic revisions, while retaining the most troubling aspect for Jews, namely the desire to end the distinctive Jewish way of life. Still named the ‘Prayer for Conversion of the Jews,’ it is a major departure from the teachings and actions of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and numerous authoritative Catholic documents, including Nostra Aetate.”

Jewish blogger Tzvee: “First the pope re-instituted the Tridentine Mass, in effect saying to us Jews, ‘We will insult you, just like in the olden times.’ Now the Holy Father has revised the insulting liturgy, in effect saying to us Jews, ‘We still want to convert you. However we will not insult you… as much.’ Alas I now must once again just pray that the Lord remove the blindness from the pope’s eyes and lift the veil from his heart — so that he can begin to respect us Jews and …accept the authenticity of our religion and our revelation and our redemption through our Torah.”

Rabbi Guiseppe Laras , president of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis: “What worries me is the second part of the prayer which retains the prayer for the recognition of Jesus by the Jews. I fear that will set back, if not block, the Jewish-Christian dialogue, since some parts of the Jewish world fear that the dialogue is actually intended to convert Jews to Christianity.”

Q&A: Karen Armstrong on Pakistan, Islam and secularisation

Karen Armstrong at an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, 3 Feb. 2008/Mian KursheedKaren Armstrong, the best-selling British writer and lecturer on religion, has given a long interview to Reuters in Islamabad after addressing a conference in the Pakistani capital. A former Catholic nun who now describes herself as a “freelance monotheist,” she has written 21 books on the main world religions, religious fundamentalism in these faiths and religious leaders such as Mohammad and Buddha. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography. The short version of what she said is in the Reuters story linked here. We don’t publish the Q&A text of our interviews on our news wire, but we can do it here on the blog.

Q:You were last in Pakistan in 2006. What brought you back this time?

A: There is a really poignant hunger here, as well as in other parts of the Muslim world, to hear a friendly Western voice speaking appreciatively of Islam. It is a sad thing for me that this should be such an unusual event, but given the precarious state of relationships between so-called Islam and the West it seems something that is important to do.

Q: Pakistan seems to be a crucial place for the future of Islam at the moment. How do you see the impact of events in Pakistan in terms of developments in Islam as a whole?

German family ministry slams “atheism for kids” book

Cover of the book “How do I get to God? asks the little pig”Is this book too subversive for children to read? How do I get to God? asks the little pig looks like a typical children’s book, with a cover drawing showing a cute little pig gazing skywards. But the subtitle hints there may be something different inside. It reads: A book for all those who don’t want to be fooled. This is a book about atheism for children, a “Dawkins for kids” as one reviewer dubbed it.

The book tells the story of a little pig and a hedgehog that go looking for God. They meet a priest, a rabbi and a mufti, all of whom are portrayed as crazy. More on that below.

Germany’s Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth wants the book placed on a list of literature deemed dangerous for children. Not just because it is atheist but, the ministry said, because it mocks religion. “In the book, the three great world religions Christianity, Islam and Judaism are scorned,” it said in its application for putting the book on the danger list. “The distinctive characteristics of each religion are ridiculed. Especially the Jewish faith is slurred by the portrayal and characterisation of the rabbi.” Further on, it clearly says that the portrayal of the “mad rabbi” and the details mentioned about Jews make the book anti-Semitic.

Did Egypt torpedo a Muslim-Jewish meeting in Rome?

Rome’s chief rabbi Di Segni (C) visits capital’s main mosque, 13 March 2006/Chris HelgrenIt would have been a first. The imam of Rome’s mosque was due to visit the city’s synagogue on Wednesday, but unexpectedly called off the meeting on Tuesday, citing unspecified logistical problems. Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni visited the mosque in 2006, so Imam Ala Eldin al Ghobashy would have been returning the compliment. It would have been an important symbolic step forward for inter-religious dialogue, right in the Vatican’s backyard.

Di Segni told journalists there had been “alarming signals from Egypt” indicating opposition to the visit among Islamic scholars there because of Israel’s recent blockade of the Gaza Strip. Italian newspapers said the signals came from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the leading centre of Sunni Islamic learning. Muslim leaders in Rome denied any intervention from abroad and blamed the delay on “excessive interest in the visit”.

Di Segni has said he hopes logistical problems were “the only motives that determined what we hope is a temporary delay”. We reported the reason given by Abdellah Redouane, secretary general of the Islamic Cultural Centre attached to the mosque, because that’s how he explained the decision. We’re trying to find out more, but this kind of story is notoriously difficult to nail down.

Rotterdam to mark Holocaust Day with local survivor’s book

OnbestelbaarResidents of Rotterdam will find something unusual in their mailboxes next week — a book by a local Dutch Holocaust survivor recalling the wartime Nazi occupation of their city. Isaac Lipschits wrote it as a letter to his mother and entitled it Onbestelbaar (Undeliverable). That’s the “return-to-sender” message the Dutch Post Office stamps on letters whose recipients cannot be found. The author’s mother is untraceable because she was murdered in Auschwitz on January 15, 1943.

The publisher Uitgeverij Verbum plans to send 250,000 free copies of the book to all Rotterdam households — and make it available as a PDF download on its website — on January 24, three days before the international Holocaust Day marking the liberation of the death camp on January 27, 1945. It took the initiative with three Dutch groups devoted to honouring Holocaust victims and opposing racism — the Loods 24 Committee, the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee and the Holocaust Memorial Foundation.

With this free distribution of the Holocaust book, the sponsors want to encourage Rotterdamers to read the 76-page book and think about anti-Semitism and discrimination,” the Dutch news agency ANP wrote. “Rotterdam Mayor Ivo Opstelten will hand over the first copy of the book at City Hall to the author during the Auschwitz Memorial 2008 ceremony on January 23. Opstelten has also written the foreword to Onbestelbaar.”

Israeli “kosher” buses: ladies to the back, and no trousers!

Ultra-Orthodox men in an Israeli bus, 14 Jan 2008/Gil Cohen MagenShould public bus companies in Israel be allowed to run “kosher” routes where women passengers must sit in the back and are frowned on for wearing trousers? Israel’s High Court is expected to decide this week on a case brought against them by women who say they have been “bullied in the name of God” on these buses for not following the ultra-Orthodox custom of separating men and women in public.

The controversy has been bubbling for several years. It started when the public bus companies introduced the “mehadrin” (strict kosher) lines to compete with private companies who introduced separate seating in buses that passed through ultra-Orthodox areas. My feature today interviews angry women passengers and defenders of the system.

Bus stop in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, 14 Jan, 2008/Gil Cohen MagenReporting in Israel occasionally throws journalists into the middle of the tension between deeply religious and secularist Israelis. I live in a broadly secular neighbourhood of Jerusalem and drive a car, so have never taken the “kosher” buses. The first time I went to Mea Shearim, an ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem, I took care to wear loose clothing with long sleeves that seemed sure to pass the modesty test. But I hadn’t realised trousers were a no-no too. The placards nailed up around the area listing exactly what clothing was out of bounds soon made that clear.

Vatican daily has Jewish historian comment on Bush and Auschwitz

Apologies aren’t easy, especially for the infallible.*

President Bush visits Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, 11 January 2008During his visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, President George Bush saw aerial photos of the Auschwitz death camp taken by American planes during World War Two and was quoted as saying: “We should have bombed it.” This presented an interesting challenge to the Pope’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Critics have long accused Pope Pius XII of failing to help Jews during the Holocaust and his successors of failing to say mea culpa in apology. German-born Pope Benedict heard the same in May 2006 after he avoided the issue during a visit to Auschwitz. So how should the Vatican daily report what looked like an indirect apology (the first of its kind?) by the U.S. president?

The Sunday edition showed the way. L’Osservatore, a once-bland broadsheet livened up under its new editor Giovanni Maria Vian, invited the Jewish historian Anna Foa to write a front-page commentary on “The Missed Bombing” (text in Italian). She writes: “A president of the United States, George W. Bush, has admitted publicly what many historians and a part of public opinion have been saying for years: that in 1944, the Americans should have bombed Auschwitz.” Foa noted that, as early as 1942, information about the death camps had reached “the Red Cross, the neutral countries, the Holy See, the chancelleries of the Allies. Many of these reports were not believed at the time. But in 1943, all governments knew.

Pope Benedict enters Auschwitz death camp, 28 May 2006/Pawel KopczynskiBombing Auschwitz could have slowed or stopped the slaughter there, especially of the half a million Hungarian Jews deported in the summer and autumn of 1944, but the Allies did not do it. Not because bombing would not be useful, Foa writes, but for “a more general reason: saving the Jews did not have priority in the overall management of the war.” Bombing the train tracks leading to Auschwitz or even the gas chambers themselves “would have broken the silence that settled over the death camps, given the war an incomparable ethical motivation and forced all of Europe to know” what was happening there.

Saint Pius XII? Not so fast…

Andrea Tornielli’s book on Pius XII

During World War Two, Pope Pius XII was (1) a saintly man, (2) Hitler’s Pope or (3) neither of the above. This question continues to weigh on Catholic-Jewish relations despite all the progress made since the Second Vatican Council. It would be easy to assume that Catholics answer (1) and Jews (2), but the debate is far more complex than that. There are Catholics who say Pius didn’t do enough to help the Jews and Jews who defend him as doing everything he could under the circumstances.

The issue keeps smouldering because the Catholic Church is considering Pius for possible beatification and sainthood. The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League has urged the Church to suspend the procedure until the Vatican declassifies all its wartime archives. The Vatican opened its archives up to 1939 — the end of the papacy of Pope Pius XI — in 2005, but it is still processing the files from Pope Pius XII’s papacy (1939-1958). In the meantime, the controversy has produced a steady stream of books on Pius XII and the Holocaust, only some of which are thumbnailed below.

Hitler’s Pope by John CornwellThe Defamation of Pius XII. By Ralph McInernyPope Benedict XVI has now slowed down the procedure by asking for a further review of the Pius XII dossier, which is 3,500 pages long. Andrea Tornielli, Vatican correspondent of the Italian daily Il Giornale, has reported that Benedict has also decided to set up a committee to review the issue and is concerned about the possible reaction if the Vatican beatified Pius XII too soon. Tornielli, whose fourth book about Pius XII was published in May, says Hitler, the War, and the Pope. By Ronald J. Rychlakthe pontiff was The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis. By Rabbi David G. Dalinnot a callous anti-Semite as some critics portray him.

To trust or not to trust — Vatican diplomat vents frustration at Israel

Italians have a wonderful phrase they use when things don’t work out as they had hoped: “It was better when it was worse.”

Archbishop Pietro SambiThat was the thrust of controversial comments about the Catholic Church’s relations with Israel by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, currently the Vatican’s nuncio (ambassador) to the United States and formerly the papal envoy to the Jewish state.

Sambi, who was nuncio in Israel from 1998-2005, could not have been clearer about his discontent: “If I must be frank, relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel were better when there were no diplomatic relations.” That was the opening salvo in a long interview in Italian with www., an on-line publication of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Bishop of Arabia highlights Catholic questions on Muslim appeal

The Roman Catholic bishop of Arabia has published a letter on the dialogue call by 138 Muslim scholars pointing out possible stumbling blocs for future talks. The article by Bishop Paul Hinder in Oasis , a multilingual Catholic-Muslim dialogue magazine published in Venice, welcomes the appeal and says: “Here are Muslims offering a hand that we should take.”

Oasis reviewThe Swiss-born bishop is based in Abu Dhabi with responsibility for Catholics in the whole Arabian Peninsula. Just before the historic visit by Saudi King Abdullah to the Vatican on Nov. 6, he called in a Reuters interview for more freedom and security for minority Christians in Saudi Arabia and more freedom for foreign priests to enter the country to administer to them. There are about 1.2 million Christians in Saudi Arabia, nearly a million of them Catholics. Most are Filipino migrant workers.

In his Oasis article, Hinder listed several points that seem to have raised questions among Catholic theologians: