Pope In Israel 2009Criticism is still being heard following Pope Benedict XVI’s visit Monday to Yad Vashem, in which a short speech he gave appeared to be a bit lackluster. The Pontiff had begun his visit to Jerusalem with a formal call to President Shimon Peres at his official residence, followed by an entertainment program in which a number of singers and choir groups took part, including children representing the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Yad Vashem visit, which took place at the end of day, appeared to be let-down for a number of Rabbinical and other leaders, including Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Chief Rabbi and the present head of Yad Vashem.

Although the Pontiff did say expressions like “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,” he didn’t make mention of the Nazis as such and didn’t go far enough to express his sincere regret that the Church did not do enough to save Jews during the Holocaust – especially his predecessor, Pope Pius XII.

Knesset speaker Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, who was present during the Hall of Remembrance ceremony added that Benedict’s visit there was not enough to receive forgiveness in the eyes of the Jewish People.

“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” Rivlin said.

No doubt that the Pontiff, as the official head of his faith’s 1.2 billion adherents, was not at liberty to express any personal pleas of forgiveness – not that any might have been forthcoming. The words he did say were probably carefully reviewed by church officials, and even practiced beforehand prior to the visit.

For a pope born and raised in Germany, and who was a member of the “Hitler Youth” as a child, his visit to this scared shrine, in which the ashes of unknown Jewish victims are buried under it’s black granite floor, it might be said that his words did at least commemorate their deaths, and raised sincere hope that this horrible tragedy will never happen again. No mention was also made of the Church’s long persecution of Jews, including the 400 year long “Holy Inquisition” in which perhaps millions of Jews were either vanquished from lands such as Spain, Portugal, and Italy; or tortured and put to death in the most cruel and barbaric fashion if found to be practicing their faith in secret after converting to Christianity.

The Pope’s agenda on Tuesday, included visits to the Temple Mount Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and other holy sites and held an audience with both Jewish and Muslim leaders. Perhaps he will be more forthcoming during this visit, and will say a bit more regarding his church’s responsibility for so much suffering.