VATICAN CITY &

Top officials from the World Jewish Congress said they met today with Pope Benedict XVI, voicing their concern about Iran and anti-Semitism in Europe and encouraging interfaith dialogue with moderate Muslims.




WJC President Ronald Lauder and the group's new secretary general, Michael Schneider, met with Benedict in a private audience at the Vatican.




Schneider said the delegation thanked the pope for his work supporting interfaith relations and invited him to meet with senior Jewish leaders during his planned trip to New York next year.




"We mentioned our extreme anxiety over the Iran situation, not just because of the Jewish angle but because it was a threat to world stability," Schneider said in a telephone interview. "We were extremely anxious to find some way to be helpful in pushing the Iranians to some kind of sensibility."




He said the delegation also repeated the WJC's proposal to reach out to the moderate Muslim world "to establish a dialogue among moderates, and to try to reach some common ground." The WJC has previously proposed expanding the Vatican-Jewish dialogue to include moderate Muslims.




Schneider said Benedict was in favor of such a dialogue, and had voiced "frustration" over the situation with Iran.




Tehran's hard-line leadership increasingly has drawn international criticism over its nuclear program and comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of Israel.




Schneider said the delegation also raised the issue of the rise in neo-Nazi groups and anti-Semitic sentiments, particularly in Europe.




Lauder mentioned a Polish priest, the Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has been accused of fomenting anti-Semitism through the politically influential, ultra-Catholic radio station Radio Maryja.




"He called on the pontiff to take action against those in the church who wanted to do damage to the close and positive relationship between Christians and Jews," a WJC statement said.




The WJC also underlined its commitment to maintaining its "long relationship between us and the Roman Catholic Church" in the wake of a management shake up at the Jewish organization.




The congress, one of the most prominent Jewish organizations, has been beset by a series of problems that culminated in May with the unexpected resignation of then-President Edgar M. Bronfman Sr.




Bronfman had fired his longtime deputy, Rabbi Israel Singer, after a 2006 report by the New York attorney general concluded that Singer improperly used WJC funds for personal use. No criminal charges were filed.




Lauder, the son of cosmetics magnate Estee Lauder and a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, was named president in June. Schneider was appointed to his post two weeks ago.




Founded in 1936, the World Jewish Congress is known for its campaign to win restitution from Swiss banks holding the assets of Holocaust victims, fighting anti-Semitism and lobbying to allow the Jews of the Soviet Union to emigrate.




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