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Rabbi who fostered closer Jewish-Catholic relations dead at 99

VATICAN CITY (CNS): Rome’s retired chief rabbi, Rabbi Elio Toaff, who played a key role in fostering closer ties between Jews and Catholics, died on April 19 at the age of 99.
Rabbi Toaff would have turned 100-years-old at the end of April, also helped facilitate a historic moment when he invited then-Pope John Paul II to pray with him in Rome’s synagogue in 1986. It was the first visit in modern time by a pontiff to a Jewish temple.
In a letter to Rome’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, Pope Francis expressed his condolences and said Rabbi Toaff had won widespread “esteem and appreciation for his moral authority, together with his profound humanity.”
The pope wrote, “I remember with gratitude his generous commitment and sincere openness to promoting dialogue and close relations between Jews and Catholics, which saw a significant moment in his memorable meeting with St. John Paul II in Rome’s synagogue.”
Born in Livorno, Rabbi Toaff served from 1951 to 2001 as Rome’s chief rabbi, heading up the Jewish community soon after Italy’s liberation from Nazi occupiers and Italian Fascist forces under whom more than 2,000 Roman Jews were deported.
L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said he made an “invaluable contribution” to fostering mutual understanding and friendship between Jews and Catholics “in order to overcome a much too long history of rivalry and animosity, conflict and persecution” and he aimed for a common future respectful of differences.

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