Pope’s Will Points to Future Ties with Jews-Rabbi

Pope John Paul’s decision to mention a Jew in his will was a sign to his successor to continue and improve his record of opening to Judaism, Rome’s former Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff has said. Toaff, who welcomed the Pope on his ground-breaking visit to the city’s synagogue in 1986, said in interviews with Italian newspapers published on Friday that he was surprised to be named along with two Roman Catholic prelates. John Paul, the first pope to set foot in a synagogue, is seen as the pontiff who most helped heal Jewish rifts with the Christian world after the Holocaust.

“It is a very important, moving fact that I did not expect,” Toaff told the daily La Repubblica. “It is a significant and profound gesture for Jews. But I think it is also an indication to the Catholic world.” Toaff said: “Pope Wojtyla wanted to indicate a road aimed at further destroying all the obstacles that have divided Jews and Christians through the centuries.”

Toaff, who attended the Pope’s funeral on Friday, said he hoped the next pope would uphold John Paul II’s legacy and “do even better … But it is unlikely that there will be someone else like him. Even if we are optimistic, I see many difficulties in finding a successor of his stature.” The two other people mentioned in the will released on Thursday were the Pope’s mentor, the late Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, and his long-time personal secretary Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.

Pope John Paul has been praised by Jewish leaders for his repeated condemnation of anti-Semitism and apologies for the historical mistreatment of Jews, whom he called “dearly beloved elder brothers.” John Paul established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993, and in 2000 visited Israel’s memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. He also prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall for forgiveness for historical Christian mistreatment of Jews. “The request for forgiveness was one of the greatest gestures of Pope John Paul,” Toaff said.

Remembering his first meeting with the Pope, Toaff told Corriere della Sera, another Italian newspaper: “He was ill, I went to see him. He was sleeping. I sent him my recovery and birthday wishes. The secretary came back with his eyes wide open. He had told him I should see him immediately. As soon as he saw me, he threw his arms around me.”