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Pope to Visit Synagogue  —  But What For?

by Christopher A. Ferrara

As reported by AP on May 14, 2005, "Pope Benedict XVI has told the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican he intends to visit the main synagogue in Cologne, Germany, in August, becoming the second pontiff in history to visit a Jewish place of worship."

AP further reports that Ambassador Oded Ben-Hur enthused that "‘We're very happy, and this is a gesture that goes in line with the latest declarations’ from the pope … He said the planned visit showed Benedict's ‘desire to enhance and widen the dialogue with the Jewish people.’"

With all due respect, why must Pope Benedict XVI repeat the gesture of John Paul II, who visited the main synagogue in Rome in 1986? What did that gesture accomplish for the cause of the Gospel, and what will another papal visit to a synagogue accomplish? Have gestures produced even the least diminution of the hardness of Jewish hearts toward Christ and His Church? And if the very Vicar of Christ comes into their synagogues without urging them, as the first Pope Saint Peter did, to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins, what message does the Pope send to the modern descendants of the Pharisees? It can only be this: that the Catholic Church no longer seeks or expects your conversion. Rather, the Church pays tribute to your way of worship, even though you reject the Messiah.

We cannot forget what Our Lord Himself said to Saint John concerning the state of the synagogues after His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension: "I know the blasphemy of them, which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of satan (Apoc. 3:9)." Nor can we forget what the great Jewish convert priests, the brothers Lemann, demonstrated in their presentation to the First Vatican Council ("The Question of the Messiah and the Vatican Council"): that Judaism after Christ degenerated into a Talmudic falsification of the Old Testament, concocted by the rabbis to obscure and deny the divine status of Christ as Messiah and the clear fulfillment of the prophecies of His coming.

AP notes that "the new pope has said he intends to continue John Paul's work toward improving relations between Roman Catholics and Jews." But what is meant by "improving relations"? The only real improvement the Church can seek in Catholic-Jewish relations is the preparation of the latter for conversion to Christ. This is the improvement the Church commands us to seek by praying for Jewish conversion, rather than the Vicar of Christ conducting visits in tribute to Talmudic houses of worship. As the Church’s ancient Good Friday liturgy declares: "Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that our God and Lord may remove the veil from their hearts; that they also may acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ."

It is impossible to see how papal visits to synagogues can do anything but "improve" relations with the Jews at the expense of the Church’s mission to them. Let us hope the Pope changes his mind about repeating the gesture of his predecessor, or that, if he does enter the synagogue in Cologne, he does so with the aim of preaching Christ crucified to those inside.