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Pope tiptoes around controversy in visit to Israel's Holocaust memorial

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JERUSALEM – Pope Benedict XVI visited Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem Monday, laying a wreath and speaking words of Scripture in what many hoped would be a historic move towards mending Jewish-Christian relations.

The pope's visit bears particular significance both because of some of his controversial decisions since becoming pope in 2005, and also because of his personal history: he is a German national who was compelled to join the Hitler Youth at age 14, and was later drafted into an anti-aircraft unit.

"The Catholic Church feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here," Pope Benedict said. "As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence."

The pope seemed visibly moved during the ceremony at the Holocaust memorial, where he rekindled the "eternal flame" and laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance, which bears the names of many of the concentration camps where Jews died during World War II.

But he did not visit the museum's permanent exhibit, avoiding finer points of contention between the Jewish state and the Vatican. In the museum, a caption under a photo of Pius XII – the pope during World War II – says that his papacy was silent as Nazis rounded up Jews across Europe and sent them to their deaths. But Benedict has called Pius as a "great churchman" and the Vatican says he quietly worked diplomatic channels to try to save Jews. A movement inside the church has been seeking Pius' beatification for the past 25 years.


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