WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pope Benedict will meet Jewish leaders in Washington and visit a synagogue in New York in acknowledgment of the Passover festival, which begins during his U.S. tour this month, U.S. bishops said on Thursday.
The pope, who visits Washington and New York April 15-20, will meet with 200 leaders of other religions on April 17 and will speak separately with Jewish leaders afterward, the U.S. Conference of Bishops said in a statement.
The meeting is “to present to them a message of his cordial greetings for the imminent feast of Passover,” said Monsignor David Malloy, the general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The pontiff, on his first trip to the United States since being elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005, will visit Park East Synagogue in New York City for 20 minutes on April 18, the bishops said.
It would be only the second time he has visited a synagogue and only the third time a modern pope has entered a Jewish place of worship.
“By this personal and informal visit, which is not part of his official program, His Holiness wishes to express his good will toward the local Jewish community as they prepare for Passover,” Malloy said.
Pope Benedict visited a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 to pay tribute to Jews from the city who died during the Holocaust. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited a synagogue in Rome in 1986.
The Passover festival, which begins April 19 this year, commemorates the Jews’ escape from slavery from the pharaoh in ancient Egypt.
The pope’s synagogue visit comes just two months after the Vatican surprised Jews by approving a revised version of a Good Friday Mass in Latin that included a line asking God to help Jews “acknowledge Jesus Christ as the savior.”
Most churches hear Mass in the local language, so the Latin Good Friday prayer was heard by very few congregations worldwide. But Jewish groups expressed disappointment over the wording, viewing it as a step backward after decades of improvement in Jewish-Catholic relations.
Reforms in the 1960s led to the Church dropping references to conversion of Jews in Good Friday prayers and were seen by many Jews and Catholics as affirming that God had a covenant with the Jewish people.
Pope Benedict touched off the controversy last year when he agreed to make the old-style Latin Mass more available for traditionalists along with a missal, or prayer book, that had been phased out in reforms of the 1960s.
The pope had agreed not to use the traditional Latin prayer because of its references to Jews’ “blindness” over Christ and other language considered offensive.
Editing by Xavier Briand