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Jews disappointed by changes to Vatican prayer

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Jewish leaders have reacted with disappointment to the Vatican’s new version of a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews and said it could set back inter-religious relations by decades.

In changes to the contested Latin prayer announced on Tuesday, the Vatican removed a reference to Jewish “blindness” over Christ and deleted a phrase that asked God to “remove the veil from their hearts”.

But the new version of the prayer still says Jews should recognise Jesus Christ as the saviour of all men and still has an underlying call to conversion they wanted omitted.

“While we appreciate that some of the deprecatory language has been removed ... we are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact,” said Abraham Foxman, U.S. national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Foxman denounced the changes as “cosmetic revisions” while Rome’s chief Rabbi Riccardo Segni called them “a serious step backwards”.

Jewish groups complained last year when the Pope issued a decree allowing a wider use of the old-style Latin Mass and a missal, or prayer book, that was phased out after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965.

Jewish groups had protested against the re-introduction of the old prayer for the Jews, which will be used only by a tiny minority of Catholics, and had asked the Pope to change it.

According to an unofficial translation, the new prayer says:

“Let us pray for the Jews. May God our Lord enlighten their hearts so that they recognise Jesus Christ saviour of all men.”

It continues: “Almighty and everlasting God, you who want all men to be saved and to reach the recognition of truth, graciously grant that with the fullness of peoples entering into your Church all Israel may be saved”.

Foxman said the changes were a “major departure” from the teachings of Pope John Paul, who died in 2005. He revolutionised relations with Jews, called them “our beloved elder brothers,” and was the first pope to visit a synagogue or Nazi death camps.

Segni spoke of “a serious step backwards that poses a fundamental obstacle” to Catholic-Jewish relations and which had put “decades of progress into doubt”.

David Rosen, an Israel-based rabbi with decades of experience with the Vatican, expressed “deep regret and disappointment”.

Rosen, chair of The International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, which groups 12 major Jewish organisations, called the new prayer a “regression”.

The Latin prayer will be used by the traditionalist minority starting March 21. Good Friday is the day Christians commemorate Christ’s death.

Only some several hundred thousand traditionalists follow the old-style Latin rite and will use the prayer. The overwhelming number of the world’s some 1.1 billion Catholics attend mass in their local languages.

They use a post-Second Vatican Council missal, which includes a Good Friday prayer for Jews which asks that they “arrive at the fullness of redemption”.