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Recast prayer renews ancient strain between Jews and Vatican

Roman Catholics' altered wording of a missal widely offensive to Jews still takes 'conversionist' approach.

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Pope Benedict XVI's revision this month of a Good Friday prayer relating to conversion of the Jews has created some consternation within both Catholic and Jewish communities. What may perhaps be another bid to strengthen Catholic identity is being perceived as a step backward in interfaith relations.

Jewish organizations have expressed dismay, and last week the International Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement requested "clarification of the meaning and status" of the new text.

Roman Catholics long involved in interfaith dialogue worry that the prayer creates confusion over where the church stands on the nature of the Jewish covenant, and particularly on proselytizing.

The controversy comes just as the pope is making preparations for a trip shortly after Easter to the United States, where his visit is to include a meeting with prominent interfaith leaders.

In one sense, the revised prayer – which will only be used in traditionalist Latin services – is a clear step forward. It replaces a prayer in the Latin missal that was particularly offensive to Jews, using such phrases as "the blindness of that people," "lifting the veil from their hearts," and delivering them "from their darkness." Many saw that prayer as having historically contributed to anti-Semitic violence on Good Friday.

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