Pope wishes Jews happy Passover, calls for closer ties

Francis reiterates wish for stronger bonds

Pope wishes Jews happy Passover, calls for closer ties

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, March 25 - Pope Francis on Monday wrote to Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni to wish all the city's Jews a happy Passover, voicing the hope ties can become closer between the Catholic Church and Jewish communities in the Italian capital and worldwide. The newly elected pope said he was praying for Jews and asked them to pray for him too. "May the Almighty, who freed his people from slavery in Egypt to guide them to the Promised Land, continue to free you from every evil and accompany you with his blessing," said Francis, elected 12 days ago. The passage refers to the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Hebrew bible, which recounts the origins of Passover as the Jews fled Egypt by crossing the Red Sea to reach the Promised Land. The eight-day Passover was set to begin Monday evening. Pope Francis thanked Di Segni for attending his inaugural Mass last Tuesday and a meeting with religious leaders the next day. The Argentinian pope, who was elected after the shock abdication of Benedict XVI, the first pope to voluntarily resign in 700 years, said "I am particularly pleased to extend to you and the entire Rome community my most fervent wishes for the great Passover feast. "I ask you to pray for me, while I assure you of my prayers for you, trusting that we can deepen the bonds of esteem and mutual respect," the pope said. Di Segni said on the website of Rome's Jewish community that he appreciated the message and planned to respond with a message wishing the pope and Rome's Christians a happy Easter. Since he became the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope on March 13, Francis has reached out to the Jewish community on several occasions. A large delegation of rabbis attended his inaugural mass, underscoring the ties between the two religions. Under his predecessors, late pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Jews and Catholics were considered as "brothers in faith". But ties were strained by Benedict on at least two occasions - in January 2009 when he unwittingly rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying bishop; and in December 2009 when he moved controversial wartime pope Pius XII, accused by many of not speaking out against the Holocaust, closer to sainthood. Despite the controversy over Pius, whose record has split experts for decades, Benedict recognised his predecessor's "heroic virtues" and proclaimed him "venerable" in the second of four stages on the path to sainthood. But Benedict's historic visit to Israel in May 2009 was seen as boosting interfaith dialogue.

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