- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI will devote two late-afternoon sessions to non-Christian and non-Catholic religious leaders during his upcoming U.S. visit, but chances for meaningful dialogue will be minimal, Catholic officials said yesterday.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops officials said at a press conference that at most, the pope will exchange brief greetings with preselected guests.

Some of the guests at these sessions say they would like more substantial face time with the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics.

Ravi Gupta, 25, a Hindu professor at Centre College in Danville, Ky., hopes to do more than present the pope with a brass incense holder in the shape of the Sanskrit word “Om.”

“I’d like to encourage him to open up a full dialogue with Hinduism and bring Hindus to the table,” he said. “That is important considering India’s growing presence in the world. Religious issues in India are taking on a lot more significance than they used to.”

Those attending an April 17 interfaith gathering for 200 people at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Northeast Washington will hear a 20-minute papal address “on the use of religion as an instrument of peace” said the Rev. Dennis McManus, a USCCB interfaith consultant.

Five young people from different faiths — including Mr. Gupta — will present the pope with gifts, then 10 religious leaders will be presented to the pope and be allowed to exchange a few words. A choir will sing a prayer of peace attributed to St. Francis, then the pope will depart.

At an April 18 ecumenical service at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on New York’s Upper West Side, the pope will take part in an abbreviated vespers service with about 300 guests from various Protestant and Orthodox traditions. He also will give a speech and be presented to 15 preselected religious leaders for brief “personal moments” before exiting the church.

David J. Michaels, director of intercommunal affairs at B’nai B’rith International and an Orthodox Jew, will present a menorah to the pope at the John Paul II Cultural Center.

“America has the most significant Jewish community outside of Israel,” he said. “We have a lot of optimism in his leadership and relationship with us.”

He wants to ask the pontiff why he approved a Good Friday prayer in the recently revived pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass that all Jews “acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all men.”

“We as Jews would normally be the last ones to be weigh in on our [ecumenical] partner’s internal theological beliefs and liturgical practices, but we were perplexed by the pope’s steps to revive the use of a prayer that recommends the conversion of Jews,” he said.

“I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to say anything to him about it, but if I do, I’d ask the pope in a spirit of friendship and honesty to take into account the needs and feelings of his Jewish partners.”

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of Orthodox Union in New York, said he had been told Benedict wanted to extend — through him and several other Jewish leaders present — Passover greetings to American Jews. Passover begins the evening of April 18.

Rabbi Weinreb prepared brief remarks, if allowed, for the pope “appreciating his respect and recognition of Jewish religion.”

“Frankly,” the rabbi added, “I have read some of his works and I am especially interested in what he has written in the relationship between faith and science. I find his works very helpful in that regard and I will thank him personally for that.”

But he won’t be taking the pope to task for the Good Friday prayer.

“My position is each religion has to respect the other religion,” he said. “It is not for a Jewish person to meddle in the texts of Catholic rituals nor is it right for Christians to meddle in Jewish texts. It’d be brazen for me to criticize what this pope and any other Catholic leader would say in their liturgy.”

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