By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Just prior to his visit a Holocaust memorial in Vienna, the pope said his presence there is intended to express “sadness and repentance” as well as “friendship with our Jewish brothers.”
The Holocaust memorial is located near Vienna’s Judenplatz, the location of the city’s main synagogue. In a driving rain, Benedict stood alongside Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg, as well as the head of the local Jewish community, for several moments of silent prayer. The monument contains the names of 65,000 Austrian Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis between 1938 and 1945.
It’s an act with deep local resonance, since Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of Vienna supported Austria’s union with Nazi Germany in 1938, symbolizing for critics the Catholic Church’s insufficient resistance to Nazi ideology.
The event marks Benedict’s first encounter with Jews since widening permission for celebration of the Latin Mass in use before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which created tensions due to prayers in the Good Friday liturgy for the conversion of the Jews. The pope’s early August encounter with controversial Polish Fr. Tadeusz Rydzyk, who heads a popular radio network in Poland often accused of anti-Semitism, also stirred Jewish protest.
Benedict said aboard the papal plane that he wanted to visit the memorial to the Shoah “in order to demonstrate our sadness, our repentance, and also our friendship with our Jewish brothers, in order to move forward with this great union that God has created among his people.”
As Benedict pulled away in his popemobile, a member of the Jewish community flashed the pope a peace sign. Benedict responded with a broad smile and a wave.