B’nai B’rith International offers its best wishes to Pope Benedict XVI as he plans to step down as the leader of the Catholic Church on Feb. 28.
Benedict held the papacy for eight years and will be the first pope to resign in 600 years, a decision he has made in light of his increasing frailty.
“We wish Pope Benedict only good health as he steps down from his position,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “He consistently expressed his commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations, and his accessibility to Jewish leaders was significant. We are very grateful for the opportunities we had to meet with him to further the Catholic-Jewish friendship.”
B’nai B’rith leaders met with Pope Benedict, as with a line of his predecessors, on multiple occasions. In 2011, Jacobs and B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin led a B’nai B’rith delegation to the Vatican to meet with Benedict. Jacobs and Mariaschin spoke with him about the Middle East and the challenges facing Jews and Christians in the region. Representing the American Jewish community, B’nai B’rith Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels presented a gift to Benedict from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum during the pope’s 2008 visit to Washington.
Benedict’s papacy was characterized by some controversies, including elevation of the status of the Tridentine Mass, with its Good Friday liturgy which, though revised by the pope, still included a prayer for Jews’ hearts to be “illuminate[d]” so that they would acknowledge Jesus as “Savior of all men.”
Despite this, Benedict visited Israel—and spoke warmly of the Jewish state—as well as important synagogues and other Jewish sites around the world, increasing goodwill between Jews and Catholics. Michaels and B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider greeted the pope at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2009.
“Pope Benedict deserves appreciation for his contributions to the great cause of Catholic-Jewish engagement,” said Mariaschin. “We hope that Benedict’s successor will continue to build upon decades of historic progression in Catholic-Jewish relations.”