VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II said Friday that "an absence of faith in God" led to the murder of 6 million Jews during the Nazi era in Germany, and he urged Jews and Christians to learn more about each other to prevent such horrors.
"Jews and Christians must get to know each other better," said John Paul, speaking in English at a special Vatican audience granted to representatives of several Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
A Real Familiarity
"This implies that Christians try to know as exactly as possible the distinctive beliefs, religious practices and spirituality of the Jews, and conversely, that the Jews try to know the beliefs and practices and spirituality of Christians," he said.
The pontiff made his remarks on a day when President Reagan awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to Elie Wiesel, an eminent Jewish writer on the Holocaust, who implored the President to cancel his planned May visit to a German cemetery containing, among others, graves of Hitler's Waffen SS.
His remarks also followed by a day the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, where 6 million Jews who died at Nazi hands were memorialized.
John Paul noted that Christianity has "deep Jewish roots" and said Christians "since the days of the apostles" have been influenced by the Old Testament.
The Jewish delegations were taking part in a two-day meeting with Roman Catholic groups held to mark the 20th anniversary of the declaration by the Second Vatican Council that condemned anti-Semitism and called for closer cooperation between Catholics and Jews.
John Paul expressed regret that "in our days, one can sometimes have the sad impression of an absence of God and his will from the private lives of men and women."
Neither Love Nor Respect
"It is in this context that I note the reference in your (meeting) program to the catastrophe which so cruelly decimated the Jewish people, before and during the war, especially in the death camps," he said.
"It is precisely an absence of faith in God and, as a consequence, of love and respect for our fellow men and women, which can easily bring about such disasters."
The Pope urged both religions to "pray together that it will never happen again and that whatever we do to get to know each other better . . . will help make people still more aware of the abyss which mankind can fall into when we do not acknowledge other people as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same heavenly Father."