(JNS.org) In a stunning announcement, Pope Benedict XVI said that he is resigning as pontiff on Feb. 28 after eight years at the helm of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, citing “advanced age” (he is 85) and deteriorating strength,CNN reported.
Amid the announcement, Jewish leaders were quick to praise the Pope for his work in continuing to improve Jewish-Christian relations, picking up where his celebrated predecessor Pope John Paul II had left off.
“During his period (as Pope) there were the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate and we hope that this trend will continue,” Ashekenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger conveyed through his spokesman, Reuters reported.
“I think he deserves a lot of credit for advancing inter-religious links the world over between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue in New York City, whose hosting of Pope Benedict XVI in April 2008 represented the first-ever visit by a Pope to an American synagogue, called this Pope “a man of conscience” who “clearly understood that his physical limitations made it unfair for him to continue to serve.”
“I always viewed Pope Benedict XVI, as a man of great intellect, integrity and sensitivity,” Schneier said in a statement. “He reaffirmed the principles of Vatican II which denounced anti-Semitism.”
Israel and the Vatican recently reached a historic agreement that formalized diplomatic relations between the two nations. It included agreements on the status of the Catholic Church in Israel, sovereignty over Catholic sites, taxation and expropriation.
Pope Benedict XVI also became the first pontiff to make a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ. In his book Jesus of Nazareth-Part II, Benedict forcefully explained both biblically and theologically why there is no basis in Scripture for blaming Jews for Jesus’s crucifixion and death, the Associated Press reported. For centuries, some Christian leaders have used this argument to justify anti-Semitism.
Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure also included a trip to Israel in 2009, where he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
Israel and the Vatican, however, have not agreed on the Palestinian issue. Late last year, the Vatican supported the Palestinians’ upgrade bid at the United Nations.
Pope Benedict XVI also frequently condemned violence against Middle East Christians and warned of their shrinking numbers in the religion’s birthplace.