Pope John Paul II praised Jews as "our elder brothers in the faith of Abraham" on Wednesday as tensions between the Pope and American Jewish groups continued to ease just before his visit to the United States.
John Paul, in a letter to Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he blesses the initiatives of all who "foster relationships of mutual esteem and friendship and promote the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the appropriate places and with due theological competence and historical objectivity."
Meanwhile, Jewish leaders said it has been confirmed that the Pope will meet with them at his summer home in Italy on Sept. 1, a little more than a week before he arrives in this country. One of the leaders, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of international relations for the American Jewish Committee, said the meeting will provide "an unprecedented opportunity to clear the air."
Tanenbaum said he expects that the meeting will help defuse tensions between the Jewish community and the Vatican caused by the pontiff's meeting in June with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. Jewish groups had expressed anger about the Pope's reception of Waldheim, who has denied accusations of participation in Nazi war crimes, and the groups had objected to the fact that the Pope made no reference to the Holocaust in his speech after the meeting.
There has been talk of a boycott of a scheduled meeting between major Jewish groups and John Paul in Miami. However, Tanenbaum said Wednesday that such action is now unlikely unless something "unfortunate and unforeseen" happens during the session with the pontiff in Italy.
The Pope, in the letter released by the Catholic bishops, praised the Jewish people and said Christians "approach with immense respect the terrifying experience" of the World War II Holocaust in which millions of Jews were killed.
"Before the vivid memory of the extermination, as recounted to us by the survivors and by all Jews now living . . . it is not permissible for anyone to pass by with indifference," the Pope said.
"There is no doubt that the sufferings endured by the Jews are also for the Catholic Church a motive of sincere sorrow, especially when one thinks of the indifference and sometimes resentment which, in particular historical circumstances, have divided Jews and Christians.