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Pope Offers 95th Birthday Greetings to Retired Chief Rabbi
Cindy Wooden
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, May 5, 2010
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VATICAN CITY (CNS)—In a handwritten message, Pope Benedict XVI offered birthday greetings to the 95-year-old retired chief rabbi of Rome, particularly praising his efforts to promote Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

"I want to join those who rejoice with you over the gifts that the Almighty's mercy has lavished on you during a long and fruitful existence," the pope wrote in the message to Rabbi Elio Toaff, who served as Rome's chief rabbi from 1951 to 2001.

The pope's personal secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, read the message May 3 during a public celebration of the rabbi's birthday attended by religious, civic and government leaders.

Drawing on Psalm 23, the pope said the rabbi's life story and work showed that God did refresh the rabbi's soul, "guiding you along the right path, even in the darkest valley, at the hour of the persecution and extermination of the Jewish people."

"The Lord, in his mysterious ways, must have wanted you to experience his salvation in a special way, so that it would become a sign of hope for the rebirth of many of your brothers," the pope told the rabbi, who was a resistance fighter who survived the Nazi occupation of Italy and spearheaded the rebuilding of Rome's Jewish community after the war.

Pope Benedict also told the rabbi he wanted to remember his "commitment to promoting fraternal relations between Catholics and Jews and the sincere friendship that tied you to my venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II."

The pope said his wish for the rabbi would be the fulfillment of the ending of Psalm 23: "'Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.' Shalom!"

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