Security hyped for Pope’s visit to Rome’s main Synagogue

January 17, 2016  

Hundreds of armed police and security personnel were deployed in Rome on Sunday as Pope Francis prepared to visit the city’s main synagogue, where he will meet members of the Italian capital’s Jewish community.

Rome’s Great Synagogue is located just across the River Tiber from the Vatican, in an area still known as the Ghetto where under the orders of some of Francis’s predecessors, Jews were confined for more than three centuries until their emancipation at the end of the 19th Century.

Some 1,500 invited guests and 300 journalists are expected to witness the visit, due to begin around 4:00pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday.

Francis is the third pope to visit the synagogue, after John-Paul II in 1986 and Benedict XVI in 2010, underlining greatly improved relations between the two faiths.

Ties have become warmer still under Francis, who has a long-standing friendship with Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, with whom he jointly published a book of conversations about issues of ethics, morality and faith.

As part of his visit, the pope will view two commemorative plaques in the synagogue’s gardens, one marking an incident in 1943 when more than 1,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz and the other
a 1983 attack on the building that left 37 injured and one dead.

After the deadly attacks in Paris in November, claimed by the Islamic State group, security for the pope’s visit is particularly tight, with basements in the area around the synagogue searched, dustbins sealed and parking banned.

Fears of a Paris-style assault in Rome have seen visitor numbers fall, while soldiers with automatic rifles have become a common sight around the city’s historic center.

AFP Contributed to this report

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