updated 4/3/2008 11:32:12 AM ET 2008-04-03T15:32:12

Pope Benedict XVI will visit a New York synagogue during his first papal trip to the United States, the nation's bishops said Thursday.

Benedict will make a brief stop April 18 at Park Street Synagogue, which is led by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who lived under Nazi occupation in Budapest and emigrated in 1947 to the United States.

The pontiff, 80, is a native of Germany whose father was anti-Nazi. Benedict was enrolled in the Hitler Youth program as a teenager against his will and then was drafted into the German army in the last months of the war. He wrote in his memoirs that he deserted in the war's last days.

It is the pope's second visit to a synagogue as pontiff. On his first papal trip in 2005, Benedict visited a synagogue in Cologne, Germany.

"By this personal and informal visit, which is not part of his official program, His Holiness wishes to express his good will toward the local Jewish community as they prepare for Passover," said Monsignor David Malloy, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Passover begins at sundown on April 19.

Meetings with Jewish leaders
Separately, the pope has scheduled a meeting with Jewish leaders and representatives of other faiths for April 17 in Washington, D.C.

Park East Synagogue is a modern Orthodox congregation that was founded in 1888 and is located near the United Nations. Benedict will address the U.N. the morning of April 18.

Schneier, 78, has led the synagogue since 1962, while promoting religious freedom and tolerance worldwide. He founded the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, which promotes interfaith tolerance, and received the 2001 U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal for service to the nation.

The pope has been reaching out to Jews, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Some tensions arose recently over a Good Friday prayer the pope revived from the old Latin rite that had historically been used as an excuse for violence and discrimination against Jews. Benedict revised the prayer to address Jewish fears, but some Jewish leaders worried that the changes did not go far enough.

Benedict is visiting the U.S. from April 15-20, with stops in just two cities. He will meet with President George W. Bush at the White House, address the presidents of Roman Catholic colleges and universities, and hold Masses at Nationals Park and Yankee Stadium.

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