- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

COLOGNE, Germany — Pope Benedict XVI, on a visit yesterday to a synagogue once demolished by the Nazis, condemned Nazi ideology and counseled vigilance against increasing racism in the world.

“In the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology born of neo-paganism gave rise to the attempt to exterminate European Jewry,” the pope said at Roonstrasse Synagogue, razed in the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 and rebuilt in 1959.

“Today, sadly, we are witnessing the rise of new signs of anti-Semitism and various forms of a general hostility toward foreigners. We must without fail awaken our conscience.”

Reaching out to Protestants, Jews and Muslims is a major theme of Benedict’s visit to the six-day festival known as World Youth Day, a convention of prayer and music that has brought more than 400,000 young pilgrims from nearly 200 countries.

The pope, on the second day of his first international visit, became the first head of the Catholic Church to visit a German synagogue.

His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who died in April, was the first pontiff to visit a synagogue, in Rome, in 1986.

Yesterday’s visit was especially significant for Benedict, 78, a German, who was forced into the Hitler Youth as a teenager and later drafted into the German army. He underwent training before deserting close to the war’s end.

Stopping to pray before a memorial to the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed 6 million Jews, he said that people have a duty to remember the “terrible events” of 60 years ago.

Benedict also promised to continue to reach out to the Jewish community.

“Today I, too, wish to reaffirm that I intend to continue on the path toward improved relations and friendship with the Jewish people, following the decisive lead of John Paul II,” Benedict said.

“There has been progress, but much more remains to be done.”

Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, worked behind the scenes to create the framework for his predecessor’s outreach initiatives that included restored relations between the Vatican and Israel.

He said Catholics and Jews have a “complex” and often painful history. He added that both communities need to work together on common goals.

“This dialogue, if it is to be sincere, must not gloss over or underestimate the existing differences,” he said. “We need to show respect for one another, and to love one another.”

One difference, evoked yesterday by synagogue board member Abraham Lehrer, is over Vatican archives dealing with World War II.

Mr. Lehrer told Benedict that he has a duty to open the files, to settle the question as to whether Pope Pius XII knew about the Holocaust.

Benedict did not directly address the issue except to say that the communities need to “arrive at a shared interpretation of disputed historical questions.”

Cologne’s Jewish community is one of the oldest in Europe. It numbers about 5,000.

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