Pope urges Polish-Jewish reconciliation, amid doubts

VIENNA — Pope John Paul II paid tribute last week to Jews killed in the Holocaust and urged past tragedy and common heritage to spur reconciliation between Poles and Jews.

The pope, 77, made his impromptu remarks in the central Polish city of Kalisz, during a visit to a sanctuary dedicated to members of the Polish clergy who survived the Dachau death camp.

He referred to Jews, saying, "A people who lived with us for many generations remained with us after this terrible death of millions of daughters and sons. Jewish cemeteries scattered around Poland testify to this common past."

These cemeteries had "deep spiritual significance," he said. "Let these places join Jews and Poles, because together we await the day of judgment and resurrection."

He referred to the death camps set up by the Nazis in Poland as "places of execution which fill us with terror."

Both Church and Polish Jewish sources said the pope may have made his remarks, which were not prepared in advance, because no meeting with members of Poland's Jewish community was scheduled during the 11-day trip to his native Poland.

Some observers were not impressed with the pope's comments in Kalisz.

"His remarks add nothing to the Pope's well-known position on Jewish issues," Konstanty Gebert, editor of the new monthly Polish Jewish magazine Midrasz, said in an interview from Warsaw.

In fact, the Jewish community would have liked to see the pope go further, he added.

"An outright condemnation of use of anti-Semitic innuendo in Catholic media, such as Radio Maryja, would be welcome, but wasn't really expected," he said.

The pope has made the fostering of better Jewish-Catholic relations and recognition of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust a goal of his papacy.