ROME, April 13 — Pope John Paul II, embracing the world's Jews as ''our elder brothers,'' today paid the first recorded papal visit to a synagogue and condemned persecution and displays of anti-Semitism ''at any time and by anyone.''Go here and here for other articles on the pope's visit to the synagogue. To read Pope John Paul II's address on the occasion, go here.
''I repeat, 'By anyone,' '' John Paul declared to ringing applause at Rome's central synagogue, situated in what was once the Rome ghetto, established by the decree of one of his predecessors.
John Paul, seeking to heal nearly 2,000 years of strife between Catholics and Jews, also expressed his ''abhorrence for the genocide decreed against the Jewish people during the last war, which led to the holocaust of millions of innocent victims.''
Called 'True Turning Point'
The Pope's journey to the spiritual center of what is believed to be the oldest Jewish group in the Diaspora was greeted by the Chief Rabbi, Elio Toaff, as a ''gesture destined to go down in history'' and a ''true turning point in the policy of the church.''
''The heart opens itself,'' Rabbi Toaff declared, ''to the hope that the misfortunes of the past will be replaced by fruitful dialogue.''
Rabbi Toaff embraced John Paul when he arrived on the steps of the imposing Victorian synagogue overlooking the Tiber River.
Congregation of 1,000
John Paul returned the embrace and then entered the synagogue to a thundering ovation from a congregation of 1,000 people, many of them descendents of Jews who had been forced to live apart from other Romans.
As a male chorus sang the 150th Psalm, ''Alleluia, Praise the Lord in His Holy Place,'' the Pope made his way down the blue-carpeted main aisle and took his place beside Rabbi Toaff.
In a service that emphasized the equal dignity of the two faiths, the two men sat on identical gilt and brocade thrones and took turns reading from the Psalms. 'Jews Are Beloved of God'
''The Jews are beloved of God, who has called them with an irrevocable calling,'' John Paul said, speaking in Italian and, briefly, in Hebrew.
''The Jewish religion is not 'extrinsic' to us, but in a certain way is 'intrinsic' to our own religion,'' he said elsewhere in his address. ''With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.''
At no point in his address did John Paul mention Israel. Prominent Jews around the world had expressed the hope that the visit might be the prelude to establishing formal diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Israel.
But in a series of strong attacks on anti-Semitism, the Pope offered rassurances to Jews who feared he was backing away from what Rabbi Toaff called the ''revolution'' in Catholic-Jewish relations set in motion by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.
Quoting extensively from ''Nostra Aetate,'' or ''In Our Times,'' the Vatican II document that rejected the longstanding belief among many Catholics that Jews were collectively responsible for Christ's death, the Pope declared:
''So any alleged theological justification for discriminatory measures or, worse still, for acts of persecution is unfounded.'' Deplores Discrimination
The Pope said ''the acts of discrimination, unjustified limitation of religious freedom, oppression'' directed against Jews were ''gravely deplorable manifestations.''
''Yes, once again, through myself, the church, in the words of the well-known declaration 'Nostra Aetate,' 'deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews any time and by anyone,' '' he said. ''I repeat, 'By anyone.' ''
Recalling his visit to Auschwitz in 1979, the Pope spoke of ''the memory of the people whose sons and daughters were destined to total extermination.''
''The Jewish community of Rome, too, paid a high price in blood,'' he said.
And in a passage that Jewish leaders saw as particularly reassuring, John Paul declared that ''each of our religions'' wishes ''to be recognized and respected in its own identity,'' beyond ''any ambiguous appropriation.''
Refers to Pope's 'New Israel'
Tullia Zevi, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said the statement was important because of a recent Lenten sermon in which the Pope had said the ''new Israel'' of Christianity ''assumes and surmounts the former.''
The Pope's statement today, Mrs. Zevi said, ''acknowledges that Judaism has his own identity and has not been appropriated or substituted by Christianity.''
''He sweeps away apprehensions that he was moving away from the letter and spirit of Vatican II and was moving back toward a conservative theology,'' she added. ''He clearly expressed his wish to take up the heritage of John XXIII. And for Jews, this is a very reassuring fact.''
But Mrs. Zevi and other Jewish leaders made clear that they were still dissatisfied that the Vatican does not recognize Israel, and the issue was raised forcefully during the ceremony by both Rabbi Toaff and Giacomo Saban, the president of Rome's Jews.
''The return of the Jewish people to its land must be recognized as an unrenounceable good,'' Rabbi Toaff said. ''The recognition of Israel in its irreplaceable role in the plan of final redemption promised by God cannot be denied.''
Anti-Jewish Decree Recalled
In a moving address, Mr. Saban also referred to the decree of Pope Paul IV in 1555 segregating Rome's Jews. The order, he said, ''reduced those who lived in the ghetto to economic and cultural misery, depriving them of some of the most fundamental right.''
''It was only 115 years ago that this complex of restrictions, enslavements and humiliations ceased,'' he said as a pained expression appeared to cross John Paul's face.
The audience included some prominent Italian policians but was made up almost entirely of Italian Jews. They sat in rapt attention as the Pope spoke, some faces creased in smiles of astonishment at the sight of the white-robed Pope addressing the congregation.
''Behold, how good it is, and how pleasant, where brethren dwell at one,'' the Pope read from the 133d Psalm.
Rabbi Toaff read from Psalm 124: ''Had not the Lord been with us, when men rose up against us, then would they have swallowed us alive.''
After the 80-minute ceremony, the Pope attended a brief reception, where he received a gift of a menorah, the ceremonial candelabra. He, in turn, gave the congregation a copy of a Torah from the Vatican Museum.
Meets Key Jewish Leaders
He also met with key Jewish leaders here, including Settima Spizzichino, one of a handful of survivors from the roundup of Oct. 16, 1943, that sent hundreds of Jews to their deaths in Auschwitz.
John Paul also met the mother of a 2-year-old boy killed in October 1982, when Arab terrorists sprayed automatic weapons fire at worshipers at the synagogue, wounding 36 people. The Pope had met with the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasir Arafat, just a month before, and some Jews here said the Pope bore indirect responsibility for the attack.
Also receiving a warm greeting from the Pope was Eytan Ronn, the Israeli Ambassador to Italy, who called the visit ''a good step forward.''
Mr. Ronn said he had told the Pope he looked forward to further progress in relations between the two faiths. ''In my thoughts, there was my own country,'' he said.
On October 27, 1986, six and a half months after his visit to the Great Synagogue in Rome, Pope John Paul II presided over the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy. See my post 25 years ago: Representatives of 12 religions join Pope John Paul II at World Day of Prayer for Peace (October 26, 2011).
For more on the Roman Catholic Church's official position on Jews, see my post 50 years ago: Pope Paul VI promulgates Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) (October 28, 2015).