In the women’s gallery overhead, an impromptu press box. On the walls, large plasma screens. Alongside the Holy Ark, two television workstations.
The main sanctuary of Rome’s Tempio Maggiore, or Great Temple, is usually a venue of spiritual contemplation, but on Sunday afternoon it took on the appearance of a broadcast center.
The second visit by a leader of the Roman Catholic Church — nearly a quarter-century after the first — to the site in the city’s Old Jewish Ghetto took an added historical significance, coming a month after Benedict XVI accelerated the canonization process of his wartime predecessor, who stands accused by many critics in the Jewish community of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.
The current pope did not refer directly to Pius XII in his remarks, but said the Church had helped saved Jews in “often hidden and discreet” ways.
The Italian Jewish community viewed the pope’s visit in mixed ways. Jewish Community President Riccardo Pacifici, whose father was saved by nuns in a Florence convent, called the “silence” of Pius “a failed action.” The president of the Italian Rabbinical Association boycotted the pope’s appearance, as a sign of protest. But the meeting was standing-room-only.
“Despite a dramatic history, the unresolved problems and the misunderstandings, it is our shared visions and common goals that should be given pride of place,” said Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni.
The pope, reaffirming the Vatican’s commitment with Jews, recalled the Church’s role in “the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism.
“May these wounds be healed forever,” he said.
Greeting retired Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff on the way into the synagogue, left, entering the building to rays of sunlight on an overcast day, the pope subsequently helped dedicate an exhibit at Rome’s Jewish Museum, next to the synagogue.
One older member of the congregation reserved judgment on the event. “It looks like a scene from a movie,” he said. “Let’s just hope it has a happy ending.”