.March 23 (EWTNews) After celebrating Mass in the Upper Room, the Holy Father met privately for fifteen minutes with Israel's two chief rabbis Israel Meir Lau for the Ashkenazim - European Jews not of Spanish origin - and Eliahu Bakshi-Doron for the Sephardim, or Spanish and Oriental Jews at Hechal Sclomo at the seat of the Great Rabbinate of Israel at Hechal Shlomo in new Jerusalem. While they were meeting, the gathered distinguished guests, different Rabbis and members of the Catholic congregation traveling with the Pope, were asked to talk informally on various issues.

Cardinal Cassidy thanked the Rabbis for their welcome and exclaimed that the Catholic congregation looks forward to building a new relationship based on understanding and this meeting; and developing a partnership of two great religions. He then introduced the other members of the Catholic congregation.

One rabbi in the general audience commented, "There is clearly an understanding that there are deep theological differences between us, but we feel that the challenges being presented to us are facing both Judaism and Catholicism; and the challenges have greater weight than the differences among us. May we face the challenges together and with the help of God, may this lead to peace."

As soon as the Pope and the two chief rabbis emerged from their private meeting the rabbis presented the Holy Father with a Bible with the inscription of a verse for from prophet Micah: "All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever" (4,5) and "Greater are you when you come in lesser when you come out" in reference to Pope John Paul's coming to the Holy Land.

Without any public commentary on their private meeting, the Pope left the building and proceeded to meet with the Israelís President, Ezer Weizman.

Before leaving for his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Holy Father wrote six months ago: "While this focus on the Holy Land expresses the Christian duty to remember, it also seeks to honour the deep bond which Christians continue to have with the Jewish people from whom Christ came according to the flesh (cf. Rom 9:5). Much ground has been covered in recent years, especially since the Second Vatican Council, in opening a fruitful dialogue with the people whom God chose as the first recipients of his promises and of the Covenant. The Jubilee must be another opportunity to deepen the sense of the bonds that unite us, helping to remove once and for all the misunderstandings which, sad to say, have so often through the centuries marked with bitterness the relationship between Christians and Jews."