ROME, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- In a visit to Rome's main synagogue Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI sought to improve relations between Catholics and Jews.
"It is our duty, in response to God's call, to strive to keep open the space for dialogue, for reciprocal respect, for growth in friendship, for a common witness in the face of challenges of our time, which invite us to cooperate for the good of humanity," he told more than 1,000 people at Tempio Maggiore, or Great Temple.
He said the church has deplored the "failings of her sons and daughters, begging forgiveness for all that could in any way have contributed to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism," adding, "May these wounds be healed forever."
The New York Times reported his remarks were well-received and interrupted by applause several times.
Some Jews have criticized Benedict's move to advance toward sainthood Pope Pius XII because, they say, he did not do all he could to stop deportation of Jews during World War II. In 1943, more than 1,000 members of Rome's synagogue were seized and sent to Auschwitz. Pius's supporters call his silence an act of diplomacy meant to save more lives.
During World War II, Benedict said, the church helped Jews "often in a hidden and discreet way."
Today, he said, Christians and Jews "share to a great extent a common spiritual patrimony," but "often remain unknown to each other."
Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Rome Jewish Community, called for the Vatican to open archives about Pius XII, CNN reported.
"The silence of Pius XII still hurts today as an opportunity missed," he said.
Outside the synagogue, the 82-year-old Benedict placed roses near a plaque honoring the Roman Jews deported to Auschwitz in 1943.
"How could one ever forget their faces, their names, their tears, the desperation faced by these men, women and children?" he said.
The visit to the synagogue marked the first by a pontiff since Pope John Paul II went there in 1986, when he called Jews "our beloved brothers."