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Peer praises Chief Rabbi for 'beautiful' Pope reception

    Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks speaks as Pope Benedict listens during their meeting in Twickenham
    Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks speaks as Pope Benedict listens during their meeting in Twickenham

    Lord Patten, the co-ordinator of the Pope's visit, said that one of its most moving moments were the Chief Rabbi's words at Friday's interfaith meeting.

    Lord Patten, assessing the visit, singled out the "the most beautifully expressed statement about the relationship between faiths" made by Lord Sacks.

    Peter Sheldon, past president of the United Synagogue and chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Trust, was also impressed by the warm reaction to the Chief Rabbi's remarks.

    "The Pope walked out and grabbed the Chief Rabbi's hand with both hands," he said.

    Rabbi Tony Bayfield, Reform movement head and a president of the Council of Christians and Jews, was "glad" that he had attended the event, despite some reluctance. "I hadn't want to go particularly because it wasn't the most convenient time [before Yom Kippur]. And I have my prejudices about a former member of the Hitler Youth movement."

    (The German-born Pope was forcibly conscripted into the Nazi movement at the age of 14).

    Despite the Pope's call for interfaith dialogue, Rabbi Bayfield said: "I got the impression that it is not very high up on his agenda. He can see its importance but he is utterly focused on taking on the atheists. On balance, he'd rather do that on his own, because he is committed to a particular kind of truth, that of Christianity, and interfaith dialogue complicates all that."

    Dr Bayfield also thought that Jews were "hugely over-represented" among the interfaith audience, especially considering the Vatican's current interests. "In a sense, Jews are a side issue," he said. "We'd be more of a side issue if it were not for Israel. Everyone is playing for bigger numbers and we are not part of the Vatican's realpolitik."

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