Rabbis Thank Pope for Defense of Jews
Posted on Tue, Jan. 18, 2005
"Most of the participants in the long-scheduled audience came from the United States, particularly from the New York metropolitan area, but there were also prominent Jews from Israel, France, India, Canada and Croatia."
VATICAN CITY - A delegation of prominent rabbis and Jewish leaders from around the world met with Pope John Paul II on Tuesday to thank him for what they called a lifelong commitment to the defense of Jews.
Recalling the pope's visit to Auschwitz during his first trip to his Polish homeland in 1979, Gary Krupp of the Pave the Way Foundation praised John Paul for setting a "tone of reconciliation" in his papacy.
"You have defended Jewish people at every opportunity, as a priest in Poland and during your 26-year-old pontificate. You have denounced anti-Semitism as sin against God and humanity," said Krupp, whose foundation works to better relations between religious groups, as he stood before the pontiff in a frescoed, marble-lined hall of the Apostolic Palace.
John Paul thanked Krupp, who is from Long Beach, N.Y., and then urged Catholics and Jews to further improve relations. Only decades ago the two groups were divided by Christian thinking that Jews were to blame for Jesus' death.
John Paul noted that this year marks the 40th anniversary of a Vatican declaration rescinding the accusation holding Jews collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Christ.
"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," the pope said.
Most of the participants in the long-scheduled audience came from the United States, particularly from the New York metropolitan area, but there were also prominent Jews from Israel, France, India, Canada and Croatia.
Rabbi Jack Bemporad recounted that John Paul, shortly after being ordained a priest in 1946, refused to baptize an orphaned Jew in Krakow, Poland, and ordered the Catholic couple who had cared for the boy during the Nazi occupation to see that he was returned to Jewish relatives.
Jews were a vibrant part of the community in southern Poland, where John Paul grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, before being persecuted under German occupiers.
"I felt genuine affection," said Bemporad, of his encounter Tuesday with the pontiff. "I really thought he was moved" by the meeting.
"We were there for no other reason than to say `thank you,'" said the rabbi from Alpine, N.J., who has served on Vatican-Jewish committees. "We were not demanding anything, we were not asking for anything."
The pontiff has made better relations with Jews a hallmark of his papacy and has met large gatherings of Jews on several occasions, including his groundbreaking 1986 visit to Rome's main synagogue and his 2000 trip to Israel.
"Upon all of you, I invoke the abundant blessings of the Almighty and, in particular, the gift of peace. Shalom aleichem," John Paul said, using the traditional greeting when two Jews meet.
Many Vatican audiences are almost somber affairs, with participants often stilted or hesitant when their turn comes to greet the pope. But Tuesday's gathering radiated with warmth as the rabbis, their spouses and even some of their children came up one by one to shake the pope's hand. Cantors broke out in brief song.
While the Vatican under John Paul has been hailed by Jews for such strides as opening diplomatic relations with Israel, Jewish-Vatican relations are not without controversy. Among the sore points for some Jewish leaders are Vatican's efforts to consider Pius XII for beatification. Some Jews contend that the wartime pontiff, who died in 1958, didn't do enough to oppose the Holocaust.