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Pope decries anti-Semitism, calls it `totally unjustified"

Pope John Paul II strongly condemned anti-Semitism on Friday and acknowledged that many Christians had failed to live up to their faith when the Nazis tried to exterminate the Jews in the Holocaust.

"Anti-Semitism is totally unjustified and absolutely condemnable," the pope told theologians taking part in a Vatican symposium on the roots of anti-Judaism in Christian teachings."In the Christian world - I am not saying on the part of the church as such - the wrong and unjust interpretations of the New Testament relating to the Jewish people and their presumed guilt circulated for too long, engendering sentiments of hostility toward these people," he said.

"This contributed to soothing consciences, so that when Europe saw unleashed a wave of persecutions inspired by a pagan anti-Semitism . . . the spiritual resistance of many was not that which humanity expected from the disciples of Christ."

In his address, the Pope did not issue a direct apology that some Jews had demanded.

But he clearly acknowledged, as he has before, that many Christians had not done all they could have to help the Jews.

The symposium, entitled "Roots of anti-Judaism in Christian Circles," focuses on religious attitudes toward Jews in Christian teaching in the past 2,000 years, and how this affected history and fueled anti-Semitism.

It was not until the 1960s that the Roman Catholic Church officially repudiated the concept of Jewish guilt for Christ's death and eliminated the phrase "perfidious Jews" from the liturgy of a Holy Week service.

The pope said that as the church and humanity approached the start of the third millennium of Christianity, it was time to make an "examination of conscience" of events of the past, particularly those of this century.