Jewish leaders thank Pope John Paul

Historic interfaith audience takes place at the Vatican

Submitted by the Scarboro Missions Interfaith Desk
January/February 2007

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In January 2005, Pope John Paul II called for a reinforcement of dialogue between Catholics and Jews when he met with a group of about 160 Jewish leaders, rabbis, cantors and their relatives.

PHOTO CREDIT: L'Osservatore Romano.  Pope John Paul II greets an international Jewish delegation at the Vatican's Clementine Hall, January 18, 2006. The 130 rabbis and cantors made up the largest group of Jewish leaders ever to travel to the Vatican to meet the Pope.

PHOTO CREDIT: L'Osservatore Romano
Pope John Paul II greets an international Jewish delegation at the Vatican's Clementine Hall, January 18, 2006. The 130 rabbis and cantors made up the largest group of Jewish leaders ever to travel to the Vatican to meet the Pope.

Never before had so many rabbis gone to the Vatican for a private audience with the Pope. This unprecedented meeting was requested by a New York-based interfaith dialogue organization known as Pave the Way Foundation.

Gary Krupp, a member of the Jewish community and president of Pave the Way, proposed the meeting as an opportunity to thank John Paul II for the extraordinary efforts made in his life, especially during his 26-year pontificate, to combat anti-Semitism.

The historic gathering also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate, which marked a key shift in the Roman Catholic attitude toward the Jewish people and the Jewish faith.

In a brief address to his guests, the Holy Father said:

"May this be an occasion for renewed commitment to increased understanding and cooperation in the service of building a world ever more firmly based on respect for the divine image in every human being. Upon all of you, I invoke the abundant blessings of the Almighty and, in particular, the gift of peace. Shalom aleichem."

Greeting the Pope on behalf of those present, Gary Krupp reviewed the legacy of this Pope who had made the healing of Jewish-Christian relations a central commitment of his papacy.

"Soon after your ascension to the throne of St. Peter, you made a telling trip to Auschwitz in order to pay homage to victims of the Holocaust," Krupp said. "You have defended the Jewish people at every opportunity, as a priest in Poland and during your 26-year pontificate. You have denounced anti-Semitism as a 'sin against God and humanity.' This tone of reconciliation has been the cornerstone of your papacy and its relations with the Jewish people."

Krupp recalled that John Paul II had been the first Pope since St. Peter to visit a synagogue: "Your pilgrimage to Israel and the Holy Land on March 21, 2000, was immortalized in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people around the world when you placed your prayer asking for forgiveness in the Western Wall.

"...For your acts of love of all humankind and your implacable pursuit of peace and reconciliation of all faiths," the Jewish representative said, "Your Holiness truly is the personification of these ideals and spirit of Aaron, the high priest of ancient Israel."

"My prayerful wish," Krupp added, "is that Jews, Christians and Muslims, the three children of Abraham, may soon bond together in one common cause and voice to defend all humanity against those who defame God by committing wanton acts of violence in his holy name." He concluded by saying three times "Thank you" and "Shalom."

On the eve of the meeting, Krupp announced that the Vatican had given permission for the loan of the manuscripts of the great Jewish philosopher and theologian Maimonides (1138-1204), along with other writings, to the Israel Museum for its 40th anniversary exhibit that spring.

Rabbi Jack Bempoard, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in the United States, said, "No Pope has done as much or cared as much about creating a brotherly relationship between Catholics and Jews as John Paul II. By coming to the Vatican from across the world, we rabbis are saying 'Thank you!'"

At the audience, three rabbis pronounced a blessing on John Paul II and the meeting ended with a chant.

In John Paul's footsteps

Pope Benedict is clearly following in John Paul's footsteps. Shortly after his election to the papacy, Benedict met with Jewish leaders from around the world. In 2005, he became the second Pope in history to enter a Jewish house of worship. At the synagogue in Cologne, Germany, he won a standing ovation for his warning about rising anti-Semitism and for his call for renewed dialogue between Christians and Jews.

Last year, Pope Benedict visited Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp in Poland. "It is a duty before the truth," he said, "and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people..."

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