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Jeremy Bowen reports for BBC News
"He seemed to be gathering strength"
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Pope John Paul II at Yad Vashem
"A new future in which there is no more anti-Jewish feeling amongst Christians"
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The BBC's Flora Botsford reports
"To many here the Catholic Church bears much of the responsibility"
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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 20:35 GMT
Israel hails Pope's Holocaust grief
Pope lays wreath
The Pope laid a wreath at the memorial
Israel has welcomed Pope John Paul's Holocaust memorial speech - in which he expressed grief at Christian persecution of Jews - as "a milestone" in efforts to reconcile the two religions.

"This is another step in the process of reconciliation and I believe that more steps will be taken in the future," said Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon, echoing earlier comments by Israeli Premier Ehud Barak.

Another milestone in the relations between Israel and the Catholic Church

Israeli Minister Haim Ramon
Mr Ramon told reporters no words could fully do justice to Jewish suffering under the Nazis.

"But under the circumstances, this speech was a very important one ... he identified himself to what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust."

Earlier in the day, during an emotional visit to Israel's Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, the Pope grieved for the six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis.

'Terrible tragedy'

He called for a new relationship between the Christian and Jewish faiths based on their common roots, but stopped short of the apology many Israelis had sought for the silence of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust.

Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews

Pope John Paul
"I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church ... is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place," the Pope said.

He said there were "no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy" of the Holocast.

'Historic change'

Speaking immediately afterwards, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak - whose mother's parents were killed in a death camp in Poland - welcomed the Pope's visit to the memorial as "a climax of this historic journey of healing".

Yad Vashem
The eternal flame at Yad Vashem
"You have done more than anyone else to bring about the historic change in the attitude of the Church towards the Jewish people ... and to dress the gaping wounds that festered over many bitter centuries," he said

But he said it was impossible to overcome all the pains of the past overnight.

Earlier, in a symbolic gesture, the Pope rekindled the eternal flame in the memorial's dark Hall of Remembrance, which is paved with slabs bearing the names of the concentration camps.

Click here for sacred sites on the Papal tour

He then laid a wreath on the stone slab under which remains of victims from the Nazi camps are buried, and met Holocaust survivors and residents of his former home town in Poland.

Jerzy Kluger and the Pope
The Pope met boyhood friend and death camp survivor Jerzy Kluger at Yad Vashem
The Catholic Church stands accused of not speaking out against the extermination of the Jews during World War II and, for many Israelis, this amounts to complicity with the genocide.

After the Pontiff's expression of sympathy for Palestinian refugees on Wednesday, Israelis expected a gesture of acknowledgment of their national tragedy.


Many hoped the Pope would use his visit to Yad Vashem to deliver a fuller apology for what they regard as the Vatican's failure to condemn the Holocaust while it was taking place.

I expected him to say things touching ... on the Catholic Church itself which more than once has spread hatred against Jews

Chief Rabbi Lau
Last week, in a plea for forgiveness for the sins of Roman Catholics throughout the ages, the Pope disappointed Jews by not mentioning the Holocaust by name.

After Thursday's speech, Israel Lau, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, said he had hoped the Pope would make an explicit apology for the Vatican's inaction.

Protesters demonstrated outside Yad Vashem
"I expected him to say things touching not only on church members who sinned against the Jewish people, but also on the Catholic Church itself which more than once has spread hatred against Jews," he said.

"It was a good speech, a nice speech - very emotional - but I wait for chapter number two."

Others agreed but said the solidarity demonstrated with Holocaust victims would go far towards improving Catholic-Jewish ties.

The head of the Yad Vashem memorial, Avner Shalev, told reporters "the Pope said some capital things about the Shoah [Holocaust] and its meaning".

"I would have liked him to ask pardon in the name of the Christians, but he alluded to such repentance."

I would have liked him to ask pardon in the name of the Christians, but he alluded to such repentance

Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem
The Vatican itself has suggested that the Church's silence actually saved thousands of Jewish lives, and the wartime Pope, Pius XII, is being considered for beatification.

Last supper

The latest leg of the Pope's historic Holy Land pilgrimage came after he began the day early with a private mass at the Church of the Dormition, in the room where Jesus Christ is said to have held his Last Supper.

He also held meetings with Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Chief Rabbi Meir Lau during the morning.

The papal itinerary for Thursday also included an inter-faith meeting of Christians, Muslims and Jews, and an encounter with 20 former friends from the Polish town of Wadowice, where the Pope, Karol Wojtyla, spent his youth.

On Wednesday, the Pontiff celebrated mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square and recognised Palestinians' "natural right to a homeland".

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See also:

23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Pope's message scrutinised
23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pope's address at Yad Vashem
23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Arab press celebrate Pope's support
23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Vatican's Mid-East balancing act
12 Mar 00 | Europe
Pope apologises for church sins
19 Mar 00 | Middle East
Swastika protest heralds papal visit
22 Mar 00 | Middle East
In pictures: the Pope visits Bethlehem
22 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pope's plea for Palestinian refugees
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