Pope Benedict XVI arrived at the official residence of President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon, and from there departed for a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. His speech at Yad Vashem did not receive high grades.
At Yad Vashem, former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau – a child Holocaust survivor – and Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin joined President Shimon Peres in hosting the pope. Rabbi Lau had said earlier that he hopes to hear a message of apology from the Pope for the Church’s silence during the Holocaust.
His hope remained unfulfilled. The pope met and exchanged brief words with six Holocaust survivors before delivering his remarks. Though expressing his strong condemnation at the fact that “millions of Jews were horrifically killed,” and his firm belief that though they “lost their lives, they did not lose their names – and certainly not before the A-lmighty G-d,” he did not relate to the Nazis by name, nor to the Church’s actions during the Shoah period.
Comparing Victims Then and Today
“The Catholic Church feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here,” he said, “and it also draws close to those who are subjected to persecution today as well. As Bishop of Rome and successor to Peter, I reaffirm that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly that [this never happens again].”
Rabbi Lau: Disappointed
Yad Vashem Council Chairman Rabbi Lau waited until after the visit to declare his disappointment with the Pope’s words. He stated that the pope did not use the words Nazis or murdered, and did not express his personal pain and anguish as did Pope John Paul II during his visit in 2000.
"It was a nice speech," Rabbi Lau said, "and even moving at times. But he did not mention that it was the Nazis who did the murdering, nor a word of his personal participation in the feelings of pain and sorrow. Even the phrase 'six million' wasn't there, he merely talked about 'millions' who were killed... Not to mention that he didn't say 'I apologize.'"
Finds a Positive Point
Rabbi Lau also mentioned what he felt was a positive aspect of the speech: "It was important in that he said we must not deny, minimize or forget the Holocaust. These are three important points, especially at these times."
In Favor of Palestinian State
Earlier in the day, at the official welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport, the Pope expressed his hope for a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict that would see "both nations living in secure and recognized borders" - a reference to the two-state solution that the current Israeli government opposes.
From Yad Vashem, the pope and his entourage departed for his last official stop of the day, an interfaith meeting at Notre Dame Guest House just outside the New Gate of the Old City, near Jaffa Rd. Earlier in the day, President Peres welcomed him at his official residence.
Click for complete coverage of the Pope Israel trip.