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Pope pays historic visit to US synagogue

German-born Pope Benedict XVI became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to visit a Jewish place of worship in the United States, walking side by side with a Holocaust survivor into the sanctuary of NY's Park East synagogue.

world Updated: Apr 19, 2008 08:23 IST

German-born Pope Benedict XVI became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to visit a Jewish place of worship in the United States, walking side by side with a Holocaust survivor into the sanctuary of New York's Park East synagogue.

"Shalom! It is with joy that I come here just a few hours before the celebration of your Pesah (Passover), to express my respect and esteem for the Jewish community of New York City," Benedict told some 400 people on Friday.

Among the gathering were former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn and several high-powered corporate bosses, who watched as the pope was welcomed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier.

Benedict had entered the sanctuary of the 120-year-old Byzantine-style synagogue shoulder to shoulder with Schneier, an Austrian-born Jew who saw most of his family perish in the Holocaust.

A children's choir sang a Hebrew song of peace as the two men walked slowly down the red-velvet-carpeted center aisle of the sanctuary.

Sunshine shimmered through stainglass windows under the aquamarine, domed ceiling.

The shadow of a New York City police sharpshooter, who had taken up position on the roof hours before the pope arrived, moved past one of the windows, a reminder of the strict security measures in place for the papal visit to the United States, which began earlier this week in Washington.

Dump trucks filled with sand were posted at either end of 63rd Street, in the plush upper east side of Manhattan, and the road was barricaded off on both sides. Police and secret service agents crawled the pavements outside the synagogue.