Chief Rabbi set to represent all faith communities

Pope Benedict in Rome’s  Great Synagogue in January this year, with the former Chief Rabbi, Elio Toaff

Pope Benedict in Rome’s Great Synagogue in January this year, with the former Chief Rabbi, Elio Toaff

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has been asked to give the response at the Pope's main interfaith meeting during his state visit to Britain in two weeks' time.

Pope Benedict will address leaders of the country's faiths at St Mary's University College, Twickenham, a Catholic teacher training institution that is part of Surrey University.

The choice of the Chief Rabbi to reply on behalf of all the non-Christian denominations indicates the national profile enjoyed by Lord Sacks, who is one of the five joint Jewish presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews.

But the tight-four day schedule, part state visit, part pastoral, allows no room for a separate meeting with Jewish representatives, especially as the visit coincides with Yom Kippur, although the CCJ had broached the possibility with Catholic leaders.

Sir Sigmund Sternberg, the Jewish community's leading interfaith activist, said: "I am disappointed he is not coming to a synagogue because I would have liked him to have come.Yom Kippur was a problem. If it had not been for that, I think he would have come. He wants to be friends with the Jewish people."

Pope Benedict has visited three synagogues before in New York, Cologne and Rome during the five years of his papacy.

But Sir Sigmund, a papal knight who will be attending two events (with his wife, Lady Sternberg, who is a papal dame), stressed: "I am satisfied with the arrangements."

Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies, will be introduced to the Pope at the state welcome at Holyrood Castle in Edinburgh on the first morning of his visit. "It is appropriate for the Jewish community to be fully represented alongside the other faiths, particularly in view of the great store we set on good faith relations and particularly those with the Catholic faith," Mr Wineman said.

The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester and chairman of the CCJ, will also meet the pontiff at Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Pope's Friday afternoon address to parliamentarians at Westminster Hall was moved an hour earlier to a 17.10pm start because of the onset of Yom Kippur.

But its finish will leave Jewish MPs and peers little time to grab a bite and make it to synagogue in time for the start of Kol Nidre.

    Last updated: 10:51am, September 16 2011