Pope addresses Holocaust survivors
Visits memorial in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM - His voice and hands quivering, Pope Benedict XVI stood before elderly Holocaust survivors and said the cry of those killed by the regime under which he grew up "still echoes in our hearts."
"May the names of these victims never perish. May their suffering never be denied, belittled, or forgotten," the German-born pontiff, not known for emotional displays, said in hushed tones.
But Benedict's attempts to ease tensions with Jews after his recent decision to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denied that the Holocaust occurred was also criticized. The top two officials at Israel's Holocaust memorial faulted the pope for not apologizing nor using the words "murder" or "Nazis" during his speech.
Nor did the pope make any discernible progress in resolving longstanding differences between the Vatican and Israel over whether the wartime pontiff, Pius XII, did enough to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Still, the pope has seldom been as emotional as he was yesterday when he laid a wreath and rekindled the "eternal flame" at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
The 82-year-old pontiff spoke eloquently of those who perished.
"I can only imagine the joyful expectation of their parents as they anxiously awaited the birth of their children. What name shall we give this child? What is to become of him or her? Who could have imagined that they would be condemned to such a deplorable fate.
"As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts," he said.
The second official papal visit to Israel probably won't replicate the high drama of the first one nine years ago, when John Paul II left a handwritten note at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, apologizing for Christian anti-Semitism.
Benedict did, however, receive an extraordinarily warm welcome replete with red carpets, a choir, children waving flags and red carnations, and a new strain of wheat named after Benedict that was presented to him by Israel's Nobel Peace laureate president, Shimon Peres.
"In you we see a promoter of peace, a great spiritual leader," said Peres, who also gave Benedict a 300,000-word Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible inscribed on a tiny silicon particle, using nanotechnology.
"I don't think you have one of these at the Vatican," Peres quipped.
Soothing tensions with Jews was clearly at the top of Benedict's agenda. But a noteworthy comment upon his arrival at the airport calling for an independent Palestinian homeland alongside Israel had the potential to put him at odds with Israel's new hard-line government.
Benedict said both Israelis and Palestinians should "live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood nearby as Benedict spoke those words, and Israeli officials later tried to play down the possibility of a rift, saying that the purpose of the pope's visit was not political. However, politics intruded shortly after the pope's arrival when a Palestinian cleric, Taysir Tamimi, commandeered the microphone at an interfaith gathering and gave an unscheduled speech slamming Israel's recent war in Gaza and its occupation of the West Bank.