Amid growing signs that Pope Francis I is seeking closer ties with global Jewry, a meeting between the pontiff and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was called off this week after the Vatican said it had not been aware of any such appointment.
Last week, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced that Mr Netanyahu would meet Pope Francis on Wednesday, ahead of discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome.
But the Vatican said that the meeting had not been scheduled. Mr Netanyahu’s office had submitted its request only a week earlier and, according to reports, such a short notice period fails to meet Vatican protocol on visits.
Despite this embarrassing episode for the Israeli government, the new pontiff appears to be making every effort to cultivate a better relationship with Jews.
In a meeting with Rome’s Jewish community earlier this month, which came just days before the 70th anniversary of the Nazi deportation of the city’s Jews, the Pope said: “It’s a contradiction that a Christian is antisemitic: his roots are Jewish.” He added: “Let antisemitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman.”
Last week, the Vatican issued a ban prohibiting any Catholic church in Rome from holding a funeral for former SS officer Erich Priebke, who lived his final years under house arrest in Italy. In response, the schismatic Society of St Pius X offered to bury Priebke in the town of Albano Laziale.
The funeral was cancelled at the last minute after locals rioted in protest and broke into the compound where the funeral had been due to take place.
Also last week, the Pope corresponded with an American professor whose parents survived the Holocaust.
Menachem Rosensaft sent a sermon and a personal note to the Vatican in which he said God’s presence gave his parents the strength to emerge from a Nazi concentration camp alive.
The Pope replied in an email: “When you, with humility, are telling us where God was in that moment, I felt within me that you had transcended all possible explanations and that, after a long pilgrimage — sometimes sad, tedious or dull — you came to discover a certain logic… Thank you from my heart. And, please, do not forget to pray for me.”