VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2005 ( A group of 160 Jewish leaders, rabbis and cantors will attend an audience Tuesday to thank John Paul II for his work to reconcile the two faiths.

The meeting was requested to celebrate this year's 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration "Nostra Aetate," which signaled a key shift in the relationship between Catholics and Jews.

According to a statement of the Pave the Way Foundation, which requested the meeting, Gary Krupp, its president and founder, said: "Our mission at Pave the Way is to bring together men of good will, no matter what their religious background, and to ruthlessly tear down any wall that stops this from happening."

"His Holiness, Pope John Paul II has been doing just that for decades," added Krupp. "It is only fitting that we humbly thank him for all he has done for the Jewish people of Earth and, in turn, making inroads toward true peace on Earth."

Krupp was the seventh Jew in history to be knighted by the Pope to the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

For his part, Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding, said in a statement: "This is the first time in history that rabbis representing all branches of Judaism from all over the world have come together to collectively thank Pope John Paul II and the Church for all they have done to build bridges of understanding and mutual respect between Jews and Catholics."

"In the history of the world, the last 40 years will be seen as the most revolutionary and significant in terms of progress in the Jewish-Catholic relationship," the rabbi stated. "Since Vatican II and under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, the Church has taken dramatic steps to build new bonds with the Jewish people based on true mutuality and affection."

Rabbi Bemporad continued: "No Pope has done as much or cared as much about creating a brotherly relationship between Catholics and Jews as Pope John Paul II. He was the first Pope to visit the synagogue in Rome. He issued the 'We Remember' statement on the Holocaust.

"He established full diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. And he asked forgiveness of the Jews for all past acts of anti-Judaism by the sons and daughters of the Church during his pilgrimage to Israel in 2001. For me, it's simply revolutionary. I believe Pope John Paul II will be considered a great healer in the relationship between Catholics and Jews.

"The efforts of Pope John Paul II and the Church to reach out to the Jewish people are profoundly significant because some of the greatest sources of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism throughout history have been Catholic teachings."

The rabbi concluded: "By coming to the Vatican from across the world, we rabbis are saying 'thank you.'"

The group attending the audience will include Oded Ben-Hur, Israeli ambassador to the Holy See; Amire Ofek, Israeli consul for media in New York; Rabbi Adam Mintz, president of the New York Board of Rabbis; Shmuel Rene Sirot, past chief rabbi of Europe and France; David Lincoln, chief rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue, New York; Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, Jerusalem; and Rabbi Joseph Arbib of the Great Synagogue in Rome.

The group will also include more than a dozen 12 cantors, who today were to present a concert at the Great Synagogue in Rome for the delegation and representatives of the Vatican and the Roman Jewish community.