The Pope attacked Iran as he pledged to help world Jewish leaders in their fight against anti-Semitism.
Pope Benedict XVI told leaders of the World Jewish Congress that Iran was “an issue of big concern” to him.
At a meeting at the Vatican, the Pope spoke of his concern about rising anti-Semitism and described how he wanted to use educational tools to counter the hatred of the Iranian leadership towards the Jewish people and Israel.
Maram Stern, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, said after the audience: “We thanked the Holy Father for everything he did for the Jewish people, and more importantly what he will do.”
Speaking to journalists in Rome, he said the Pope had “recognized the question of Iran as an issue of big concern for him.”
Members of the congress discussed the critical problem of “resurgent anti-Semitism” in Europe. Britain itself has seen a marked rise in anti-Semitism, linked to increasing anti-Zionism and to events in the Middle East.
In a statement after the audience, the congress said members of the delegation “called on the Pontiff to take action against those in the Church who wanted to do damage to the close and positive relationship between Christians and Jews”.
Ronald Lauder, new president of the congress, who headed the delegation, said that the Pope had agreed to host a joint event with his organization when Benedict XVI visits New York next year.
Lauder, who is the son of cosmetics queen Estee Lauder and a former US ambassador to Austria, raised the question of the Polish priest, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who heads a Catholic media empire including Radio Maryja and television Trwam. Jewish groups have repeatedly accused the priest of using his media outlets to peddle a creed of anti-Semitism.
Only a few days ago Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, secretary to the late Pope John Paul II, accused Father Rydzyk of trying to split the Church and smear the legacy of the late Pope, who radically improved relations with the Jewish community during his pontificate and was the first Pope to visit a Synagogue.
The delegation also discussed with the Pope the importance of dialogue with moderate Muslims.
The congress’s visit to Rome was an important step in re-establishing it as a player in the ongoing fight against anti-Semitism on the world stage after it was itself riven by controversy over funds and other matters over recent months.
Iran’s government, which has the largest Jewish community living in the Middle East outside Israel, numbering 20,000, repeatedly denies that it is anti-Semitic.
Nevertheless, shortly after his election in 2005, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped from the map” and described the Holocaust as a “myth”.
Only last week he questioned again the scale of the mass slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust. He also suggested once more that Israel could be moved to arctic North America.