While in Cologne for World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI makes history as the second Catholic leader to visit a Jewish place of worship. His predecessor John Paul II visited the Rome synagogue in 1986.
Crowds gathered outside the Synagogue to see the Pope
Since taking over as the head of the Catholic Church, the new Pope has made clear his intention to maintain a dialogue with Jewish leaders such as was nurtured by Pope John Paul II. The late Pontiff was much admired in Israel for his efforts to promote reconciliation between the Vatican and the Jewish people.
Pope Benedict XVI has remained true to his word. His visit to the synagogue in Cologne, which is home to the oldest Jewish community in Germany, is widely viewed as a deeply symbolic gesture, which underlines his determination to foster reconciliation between different faiths at a time of stresses and strains on all sides.
Warm welcome for the Pope's homecoming
Upon his arrival in Germany for World Youth Day celebrations, the new Pope spoke of the importance of planned meetings with Jews and Muslims.
Later he said he hoped the presence in Cologne of representatives of different Christian denominations and those from different religions would "mark a step forward on the path towards reconciliation and unity."
The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel, has welcomed the Pope's planned visit, describing it as an "historic event." He said it is the first time that any head of the Catholic Church, "and a German to boot," has visited a Synagogue in Germany.
In an interview with the Rheinischen Post newspaper, Spiegel said it was a "very hopeful sign that we are genuinely on the way towards understanding between the religions."
Spiegel has called on the pope to use his influence to prevent any further rebirth of anti-Semitism among Catholics. He said that some 20 percent of the German population have latent anti-Semitic tendencies.
The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Hans-Joachim Meyer said the Benedict XVI's visit to the synagogue is confirmation of the enduring communication between the Central Committee and the Jewish Community in Germany. Speaking on Deutschlandradio, he said he hoped the pope would place the emphasis on a mutual religious foundation.
How much can he achieve?
But jubilation about the visit has not poured from all corners, with some suggestions from the Jewish community in Lower Saxony, that the visit to the synagogue was not the same as meeting with Jewish representatives, such as John Paul II did on his three visits to Germany.
The synagogue visit will be followed by talks with Muslim leaders on Saturday, signifying the pope's commitment to dialogue with other religions during a summer scarred by Islamic terrorist violence with bombings in London and Egypt and continued violence in the Middle East.