Pro-Israel group asks Pope to remove anti-Semitism from religious art

By Reuters

Haaretz

Tevet 28, 5767

An Italian group on Thursday asked Pope Benedict to order the removal of all religious works of art and Catholic traditions that are still tainted by anti-Semitism.

The Roman Association of Friends of Israel sent a letter to the Pope asking him for a "clear and strong signal" that he would not tolerate any residual or resurgent forms anti-Semitism in religious art or popular culture, such as processions.

The group sent the letter to protest against an exhibition in a church in the Umbrian city of Orvieto which includes several old paintings depicting Jews desecrating a consecrated communion host, which Catholics believe is the body of Christ.

"The fact that this culture (of anti-Semitism) continues to survive in parishes is very worrying and alarming for us," said the letter, a copy of which was made available to Reuters.

"It is a sign that the embers of intolerance and hate continue to smoulder under the ashes, which, after the Holocaust, we had hoped were definitively put out," it said.

22One painting, called the "Miracle of Trani", portrays the legend of a Jewish woman in the year 1000 who sneaked into a church in the southern city of Trani and stole a consecrated host.

According to the legend, she took it home to desecrate it by frying it in oil. But then the "miracle" happened. The host became flesh and started bleeding. The woman was hanged and the event is still recalled in Trani today during Easter week.

"The fact that this painting is on display in a church is so grave and insulting that we decided to write directly to he Pope, bypassing priests and bishops," Anna Borioni, the president of the association, told Reuters.

"Only the Pope can do something to stop these kinds of things from still happening," said Borioni, who is Catholic.

The association's letter to the Pope said the exhibition showed that there were still residues of "virulent anti-Jewish" feelings in some sectors of Italian Catholicism.

Jews say that some religious processions held during Easter week in small cities still have traces of anti-Semitism.

In the Middle Ages in Rome, when Jews lived in the Ghetto across the Tiber from St Peter's Basilica, a papal envoy gave the Jewish community leader a public kick in the backside every year at a ceremony when Jews offered tithes to the pope.

Until only 40 years ago, a ritual recited by Catholics during Good Friday services commemorating Christ's death read: "Let us pray for the perfidious Jews".

Pope John XXIII ordered the phrase removed and in 1965 the Second Vatican Council issued a major document that repudiated the notion of collective Jewish guilt for Christ's death.

In the past few decades, the Vatican has strived to improve relations with Jews. It established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994 and Pope John Paul visited the Holy Land in 2000.