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Timeline: Highlights of Israel-Vatican Relations

Posted: May 1, 2009

1947 - The Vatican supports the proposal to internationalize Jerusalem because of its desire to re-establish its influence in the Holy Land and over the Holy Places.

1964 - Pope Paul VI becomes the first pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church to set foot in Jerusalem. However the Vatican does not recognize the Jewish State, and the pope never mentions the word Israel during the trip.

1965 - The Second Vatican Council approves the historic document "Nostra Aetate" (Latin for "In Our Times"), which:

a) Repudiates the deicide charge against Jews. It reaffirms that Jesus freely underwent suffering and death because of the sins of all.

b) Encourages mutual understanding and appreciation between Catholics and Jews

c) Deplores all displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any time, from any source.

e) Recognizes the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, which Pope John Paul II says is irrevocable.

1974 - Pope Paul VI establishes the "Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews" as a vehicle to promote better relations with Jews. The Commission issues Guidelines stating that dialogue, as opposed to monologue, "demands respect for the other as he is, above all, respect for his faith and his religious convictions." The Commission Notes stress the need to understand the "permanence of Israel" within the context of God's design and the importance of Israel to the Jewish people.

1980 – Pope John Paul II states that "the Jewish people, after the tragic experiences linked to the slaughter of many of its sons and daughters, motivated by a desire for security, established the State of Israel."

1984 – Pope John Paul II states for the Jewish people in Israel "the desired security and tranquility that are the prerogative of every nation, as well as required conditions for the life and progress of every society."

April 13, 1986 - Pope John Paul II becomes the first pope to ever visit a synagogue when he enters the Great Synagogue in Rome. He calls Jews "our dearly beloved older brothers."

1987 – Pope John Paul II declares that "the Jews have a right to nationhood, as do all other peoples, according to international law."

Dec. 30, 1993 - The Holy See establishes diplomatic relations with Israel in ceremonies held in Rome and Jerusalem. The Accord states in part, "The Holy See and the State of Israel are committed to appropriate cooperation in combating all forms of anti-Semitism and all kinds of racism and of religious intolerance, and in promoting mutual understanding among nations, tolerance among communities, and respect for human life and dignity. The Holy See takes this occasion to reiterate its condemnation of hatred, persecution, and all other manifestations of anti-Semitism directed against the Jewish people and individual Jews anywhere, at any time and by anyone."

March 12, 2000 - Pope John Paul II and Cardinals ask forgiveness for sins, including those against the People of Israel:

March 16, 1998 - The Vatican apologizes in the document "We Remember, a reflection on the Shoah" for Catholics who failed to do enough to help Jews against Nazi persecution. It also defends wartime Pope Pius XII from accusations that he ignored the Holocaust.

2000 - Pope John Paul II visits Israel, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy sites. He meets with the Israeli Prime Minister and Chief Rabbis. The visual highlight comes when the pope inserts a prayer into the Western Wall asking forgiveness of God on behalf of those who have caused Jews to suffer throughout the course of history. "We wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant, the note concludes. It marks the culmination of John Paul's two decades of effort to reconcile Catholics and Jews.

2005 - New Pope Benedict XVI visits the Cologne synagogue. The Jewish community raises the issue of the Vatican's secret WWII archives and the role of Pope Pius XII, put on the road to sainthood by Pope John Paul.

December 2007 – Pope Benedict announces a commission to study sainthood for Pope Pius XII, seen as a move to slow down the process.

July 2007 – Pope Benedict issues a papal decree which revives a Latin Good Friday prayer used by traditionalist Catholics called "For the Conversion of the Jews" which says they should recognize Jesus Christ as savior.

November 2008 - Benedict pays tribute to Pope Pius XII opening a new Vatican campaign on behalf of Pius' sainthood.

January 2009 - Israel criticizes Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace, after he criticized Israel over its offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip, calling it a "big concentration camp".

January 24, 2009 - The pope lifts the excommunication of four bishops who belong to the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X, which engages in anti-Judaism and rejects Nostra Aetate. One of the four bishops, British-born Richard Williamson, is an avowed Holocaust denier.

February 2009 - Pope Benedict tried to heal the rift by expressing his "full and unquestionable solidarity" with Jews.

-- The Vatican orders Williamson to publicly recant his views if he wants to serve as a prelate in the Church.

-- World Jewish leaders tell Vatican officials that denying the Holocaust was "not an opinion but a crime" when they meet to discuss Williamson and his views.

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Pope Benedict XVI: In His Own Words
Background & Resources on the 2009 Papal Visit to Israel

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