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Jews praise John Paul II on eve of beatification

A visit to Rome's main synagogue. Diplomatic relations with Israel. A handwritten plea asking forgiveness for Christian persecution left at Judaism's holiest site in Jerusalem.

With his landmark actions, Pope John Paul II strove throughout his 27-year papacy to overcome the tortured two-millennia history of Catholic-Jewish relations.

In a sign of appreciation for those efforts, some in the crowd at his beatification Sunday in St. Peters's Square will be Jews, including an Israeli Cabinet minister who lost most of his family in the Holocaust but was hidden by a Belgium family who raised him as a Christian.

"We have a high respect, a unique respect for John Paul," Yossi Peled, a retired Israeli general, said Friday. "He is not just another pope for us."

The preparations for the beatification -- the last formal step before possible sainthood -- got under way in an official capacity Friday morning when John Paul's tomb was opened and his sealed casket removed for public viewing starting Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica.

After decades of reluctance by the Vatican to recognize the Jewish state, the Polish-born John Paul forged formal relations in 1993, following it up with an official visit to Israel in 2000 that included stops at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and at the Western Wall, where he left his note.

In honor of John Paul's beatification and legacy, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance is installing a permanent exhibit about John Paul, the center's founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, told the Associated Press in Rome.

The exhibit, which includes a film about the late pope, is being installed "in a very prime location" in the Los Angeles museum, the rabbi said.

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