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Pope Faces Criticism by Israel

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday paid tribute to the memory of six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, pledging to work tirelessly to prevent such hatred from recurring in the hearts of mankind again.

Pope at Yad VashemBenedict says, "Church feels deep compassion for the victims."

But the pontiff's closely-watched speech at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial stopped short of an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church, producing palpable disappointment among those Israelis who had expected a historic address from the German-born pope on the first day of his visit here.

"We're talking about the pope, who is also a representative of the Holy See, which has a lot to ask forgiveness from our people for," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said during an interview on Israel Radio on Tuesday. "And he is also a German, whose country and people have asked forgiveness. But he himself comes and speaks to us like a historian, as an observer, as a man who expresses his opinion about things that should never happen, and he was - what can you do? - a part of them."

"If we let this go, in the end they'll say, 'the Jewish people can manage,'" the Knesset speaker said.RELATED

Rivlin added during the interview that "there is one thing which is forbidden to forget, and we must not allow ourselves to forget it, not even in the act of giving up on it in one way or another due to protocol. The Holocaust is not protocol."

After the pope's speech, the Knesset speaker - who was absent from all of the welcoming festivities other than the visit to Yad Vashem - said that "everything that we feared came to fruition."

Pope Benedict XVI did lay a wreath during a ceremony in Yad Vashem's Hall of Remembrance on Monday.

"I came to the memorial not only to hear historical descriptions or about the established fact of the Holocaust. I came as a Jew, hoping to hear an apology and a request for forgiveness from those who caused our tragedy, and among them, the Germans and the church. But to my sadness, I did not hear any such thing," he said.

"The visit to Yad Vashem does not constitute an expression of regret as such," added Rivlin. "The eyes of Jews across the world, and of the nation in Israel, were directed here, in anticipation of hearing honest communion - personal and determined - regarding the Holocaust of their people. And we heard nothing of the sort."

Benedict had said during Monday's speech that "I have come to stand in silence before the monument erected to honor the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah."

"They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names. These are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again."

The solemn memorial service, which was held at the Holocaust Memorial's darkened Hall of Remembrance, was seen as the highlight of the pontiff's visit to the Jewish state, especially in light of the recent controversy over the pope's decision to revoke the excommunication of a bishop who denies the Holocaust.

"I reaffirm - like my predecessors - that the church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again," he said.

The English-language address by the pontiff, which was peppered with biblical quotations but which never referred to the Nazis and avoided all Holocaust-related issues of contention, was preceded by the pope's rekindling of the eternal flame in the chamber, which has a mosaic floor engraved with the names of 22 of the most infamous Nazi murder sites.

He also laid a wreath over a stone crypt containing the ashes of Holocaust victims.

"As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood," he said.

"I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope," he concluded.

The chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is a Holocaust survivor, expressed disappointment at the pope's speech, saying that "there certainly was no apology expressed here."

"Something was missing. There was no mention of the Germans or the Nazis who participated in the butchery, nor a word of regret," Lau said. "If not an apology, then an expression of remorse."

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said that the "certain restraint" in the formulation of the speech was a "missed opportunity."

"I did not expect an apology, but we expected more," he told The Jerusalem Post. "This is certainly no historic landmark."

"I had expected a historic speech from the German pope at the site which is a memorial altar for the victims of Nazi Germany," said Prof. Shevah Weiss, a former Yad Vashem chairman and Holocaust survivor. "And though the speech was moving - it wasn't that."

Others said that too much focus should not be put on the one speech.

"His very presence at Yad Vashem is a statement, particularly against those Holocaust deniers who challenge the history of the Shoah," said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of Park East Synagogue in New York, who hosted the pope last year and was here for the papal visit.

The august ceremony, which included a brief encounter between the pope and six Holocaust survivors as well as a Righteous Among the Nations, concluded with the pope signing the guest book and the singing of "Hatikva."

"His mercies are not spent," the pope wrote, quoting from the Book of Lamentations.

The pope arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport late Monday morning and was welcomed by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

After the greetings, the pope flew by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he was met by Mayor Nir Barkat and scores of flag-waving Jewish, Christian and Muslim children.

"You will feel at home because you, too, Your Holiness, are a shareholder of this great city," Barkat told the pope, in a brief welcoming ceremony at the city's Mount Scopus tarmac.

Later, at Beit Hanassi, Peres and Benedict planted an olive tree together. Vatican defends Benedict

JERUSALEM – The Vatican defended the pope Tuesday from a growing chorus of Israeli critics who accused the German-born Benedict XVI of failing to express enough remorse for the Holocaust — a controversy that threatened to eclipse a papal pilgrimage aimed at building bridges between faiths.

The pope delivered messages of peace while visiting the holiest Muslim and Jewish sites in Jerusalem — the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.

But his speech on Monday at Israel's national Holocaust memorial attracted the most attention in Israel, with the parliament speaker accusing Benedict of glossing over the Nazi genocide and survivors lambasting him for failing to apologize for what many in Israel see as Catholic indifference during World War II.

"The pope spoke like a historian, as somebody observing from the sidelines, about things that shouldn't happen. But what can you do? He was part of them," said parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin. "With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the baggage he carries with him."

The pope delivered an emotional address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial Monday, saying the cry of those killed by the regime under which he grew up "still echoes in our hearts." But only moments after he spoke, Yad Vashem's top two officials criticized him for failing to use the words "Nazis" or "murder" in his speech.

Israeli newspapers Tuesday were filled with criticism.

"One would have expected the Vatican's cardinals to prepare a more intelligent text for their boss," columnist Tom Segev said.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi defended Benedict, saying the pope had mentioned his German roots previously, specifically when visiting a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and at the Auschwitz death camp the following year.

"He can't mention everything every time he speaks," Lombardi told reporters in Jerusalem.

The Holocaust is an extremely sensitive and emotional subject in Israel. The Jewish state was founded in the wake of the Nazi genocide of six million European Jews, and more than 200,000 elderly Holocaust survivors live in Israel.

The Vatican's wartime pope, Pius XII, has been criticized by Jews for doing little to prevent the Holocaust — a charge the church denies.

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