I wandered into Rome’s Jewish ghetto neighborhood because I read an intriguing little report about Pope Benedict’s favorite bakery.
The tiny Limentani pastry shop has long been a favorite of mine. I go for the same reason most people go: their “Jewish pizza,” a type of miniature fruit cake packed with almonds, raisins and other stuff I’ve never identified. It looks terrible and tastes great.
I asked the senior woman behind the counter about the report that the pope had their sweets delivered to his table. Through a series of phrases and gestures, she let me know that it was somewhere between maybe and probably true.
“The other pope, too,” she said. Before I could respond, customers in the jam-packed bakery began talking excitedly about John Paul II, the “other pope,” the one who in 1986 came to visit their synagogue a block away.
“He and Rabbi Toaff were great friends,” one woman said. That prompted a whole new round of assent and acclamation in the shop. When Pope John Paul died, Elio Toaff, Rome’s former chief rabbi, made a moving visit to pray before the pope’s body. In his own spiritual testament, John Paul remembered the rabbi in a special way. “Now that was a pope!” one customer said.
They were still talking about Pope John Paul when I left the pastry shop, toting my pizza ebraica.
I passed by the synagogue, where 22 years ago I watched Pope John Paul pay his visit. I still remember the impression he made when he called Jews “our beloved elder brothers.”
At the street level of interreligious dialogue, those personal gestures endure. Pope Benedict also visited a synagogue in his native Germany, but he’s not as well known by the Rome Jewish community. His taste in pastries could change that.