Friday, April 18, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the Park East Synagogue (New York City)

What's Happening Today: Friday, April 18
Visit to Park East Synagogue (en route to Ecumenical Service)
NOTE: This post will be updated as more information becomes available on this topic.

On his way to an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph's Church in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, Pope Benedict made a 20-minute visit to the Park East Synagogue, where he met with senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier. Catholic News Service reports:

"I have worked for 46 years for religious freedom, human rights and interreligious dialogue from my pulpit," he said in an interview with Catholic News Service in the days leading up to the papal visit.

"Our synagogue has been the scene of interreligious dialogue on many occasions," he said. It has hosted Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the chief rabbi of Israel.

Rabbi Schneier also is founder and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, which he said "concerns itself with the situations involving oppressed Catholics, Jews and people of other religions" ...

"I've seen the consequences of the man's inhumanity to man, and therefore having survived, I have devoted my life to reaching out, to broadening the alliance between believers and developing tolerance and mutual respect between the world's religions," the rabbi said.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Rabbi Schneier was relocated to a ghetto in Budapest, Hungary, in 1938. He escaped the Holocaust and later emigrated to the United States in 1947 and has led the Park East Synagogue congregation since 1962.

Pope Benedict XVI greets the congregation during his visit to the Park East Synagogue,
Friday, April 18, 2008 in New York. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)

New York Times' "City Room" has the details of Pope Benedict XVI's synagogue visit (the first ever for any Pope in the United States):

Pope Benedict XVI paid a 22-minute visit to the Park East Synagogue — the first papal trip to a United States synagogue — on Friday afternoon. He presented the synagogue with a replica of a medieval Jewish manuscript from the Vatican library and received three gifts: a seder plate, a Passover haggadah and a box of matzo. The pope offered warm remarks and was showered with praise and music, but in a brief, three-minute address, he did not address the Holocaust, anti-Semitism or historic tensions between Jews and the Catholic Church.

The pope entered the synagogue at 5:16 p.m., as a choir sang a Hebrew liturgical song. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the leader of the congregation, welcomed the pope, who was seated on a wooden chair to the left of the bimah, the raised platform, where the rabbi spoke from a lectern.

As the choir sang “Sh’ma Yisrael,” a central declaration of faith in Judaism, a synagogue elder drew back a thick blue velvet drape, exposing the Torah scrolls that are stored behind the bimah. Rabbi Schneier told the pope that after Exodus, the Jews “embraced the law that governs the relationship between man and God.”

Rabbi Schneier recalled that he had been invited — but could not attend — the pope’s inauguration in 2005. ...

Pope Benedict XVI and Rabbi Arthur Schneier. April 18, 2008

At 5:29 p.m. [after Rabbi Schneier's remarks], the pope stood, put on his eyeglasses and was presented with a silver seder plate designed by Menahen Ben Ari Berman, a Jerusalem artist. The pope stood behind a lectern in front of the bimah and spoke:

Dear Friends, Shalom! It is with joy that I come here, just a few hours before the celebration of your Pesah, to express my respect and esteem for the Jewish community in New York City. The proximity of this place of worship to my residence gives me the opportunity to greet some of you today. I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this. I thank Rabbi Schneier for his words of welcome and I particularly appreciate your kind gift, the spring flowers and the lovely song that the children sang for me. I know that the Jewish community make a valuable contribution to the life of the city, and I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood. I assure you most especially of my closeness at this time, as you prepare to celebrate the great deeds of the Almighty, and to sing the praises of Him who has worked such wonders for his people. I would ask those of you who are present to pass on my greetings and good wishes to all the members of the Jewish community. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

He exchanged more gifts with members of the synagogue, presenting them with the replica of a Jewish medieval legal manuscript in the Vatican library circa 1435. In return, he was given a haggadah, or Passover prayer book, and a box of matzo. Then the pope posed for photographs with Rabbi Schneier and other prominent Jews in attendance. ... (Read More)


  • At synagogue, pope seeks 'bridges of friendship' CNN April 18, 2008.

  • Live Footage: Benedict at the Park East Synagogue from Catholic News Agency. April 18, 2008.

  • The Jewish People, Joseph Ratzinger and Me, by Fr. James Martin. "A Papal Discussion" New York Times April 18, 2008:
    All of us have our blind spots about other people and other groups. Those blind spots can be overcome best by personal contact, honest dialogue, heartfelt prayer, and the hard work of trying to understand someone different than oneself. I think Benedict is trying very hard to do some of that with Jewish groups, with other Christian denominations and with people of other faiths. And I think he’s succeeding in building bridges, and changing relationships “for the better.”

    As he does so, I’m finding that I’m succeeding in something, too: in feeling real admiration — and even affection — for the pope whose election I once lamented.

  • Synagogue Choir Is Set to Serenade Pope, by Sewell Chan. New York Times April 15, 2008.