Israeli prime minister calls pope a ‘friend of the Jews’
 
By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service
 

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Pope John Paul II a "friend of the Jews" and "a man of peace" who would be remembered for working for reconciliation among peoples.

Sharon expressed the country's condolences at the death of the pope during the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting April 3.

"Pope John Paul II was a man of peace and a friend of the Jewish people…who worked for a historic reconciliation between the peoples," said Sharon.

"Yesterday, the world lost one of the most important leaders of our generation, whose great contribution to rapprochement and unity between peoples, understanding and tolerance will be with us for many years," Sharon said.

The prime minister said he was fortunate to have met the pope in 1999 while serving as foreign minister, and at that time he invited him to visit the Holy Land for millennial celebrations.

"At my meeting with him, I felt the pope's warm and admiring relations toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel," Sharon said.

The pope's visit to the Holy Land in 2000 when he was already 79 years old and sick brought hope for peace to Israelis and Palestinians, but six months later the intifada broke out, enveloping the region in more than four and a half years of violence, which the pope often lamented.

Opposition leader Shimon Peres called the pope a "true spiritual leader whose leadership extended beyond his traditional flock and believers, embracing the entire human family."

"He imbued the world not only with the spirit of greatness but also with a good spirit," said Peres. "The pope embodied the best that is within all mankind as well as the commonness of humanity. He united all of our hearts through his actions and his courage. Wherever he went, Pope John Paul II brought with him the gospels of love, hope and peace."

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and possibly President Moshe Katzav, will represent Israel at the pope's funeral later this week, according to Israel Radio.

"John Paul II will be remembered as someone who showed his believers new paths to interfaith reconciliation and brotherhood," Katzav said in a statement.

"The Jewish people will remember John Paul II as someone who courageously stood up and put an end to a historic injustice when he officially disavowed the prejudices and accusations ... against the Jews that had multiplied in Catholic Church writings and among its believers," Katzav said.

Shalom said in a statement that the pope's "visionary drive" helped establish full relations between the Vatican and Israel.

Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, said the establishment of diplomatic ties created a whole new attitude of respect for the Catholic Church among Israelis, despite the difficulties and rough points in that relationship.

"Certainly most of the current Jewish leadership has met with the pope at one time or other and had great regard for what he has done (for Jewish-Catholic reconciliation)," he said.

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