"The Pope of the Jews"

Interview With Rabbi J. Bemporad, Director of Center for Interreligious Understanding

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SECAUCUS, New Jersey, APRIL 6, 2005 (ZENIT.org).- For Rabbi Jacques Bemporad, «Pope JP II is indeed the pope of the Jews.»

The director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding, a Holocaust refugee from Italy, has been at the center of many talks aimed at improving Jewish-Christian relations.

In 1992, Bemporad worked with Cardinal Johannes Willebrands and Cardinal Edward Cassidy to help secure full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the state of Israel. In 1999, he delivered an address at the Vatican’s Conference on Interreligious Relations before an audience that included Pope John Paul II.

In January, Bemporad joined more than 130 Jewish leaders, rabbis and cantors at the Vatican for the largest audience of Jewish leaders ever to meet with a Pope. Bemporad and two other rabbis offered a blessing for John Paul II at the event, which recognized the Holy See’s historic steps to improve relations between Catholics and Jews.

Bemporad serves as professor of Interreligious Studies at the Angelicum in Rome and is the author of numerous books and articles, including «Our Age: The Historic New Era of Christian-Jewish Understanding,» published by New City Press.

Q: Would you define John Paul II the «pope of the Jews»? Why?

Bemporad: Pope JP II is indeed the pope of the Jews. He opened his arms to embrace the Jewish people.

Pope John Paul II will be remembered by the world Jewish community as a courageous and transformational figure who did more than any pope in history to heal the wounds of the past and build bridges for the future between our two faiths.

Pope John Paul II took dramatic steps to improve the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people based on mutual respect and genuine affection. He was the first pope to visit the Great Synagogue in Rome. He issued the historic «We Remember» statement on the Holocaust.

He established full diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. And during his pilgrimage to Israel in 2000, he asked forgiveness of the Jews for all past acts of anti-Judaism by the sons and daughters of the Church. For me, it’s simply revolutionary. Pope John Paul II will be remembered as a great healer in the relationship between Catholics and Jews. …

With his words and by his example, Pope John Paul II taught us that we must respect our religious differences while forging peaceful bonds based on our common humanity.

For the Jewish people, Pope John Paul II leaves a legacy of hope.

Q: You are one of the last Jewish moral authorities who visited the Pope with hundred other rabbis: What do you remember most of this meeting?

Bemporad: What I remember most is the sense of personal satisfaction that the Pope felt by having so many Jews come to thank him. He smiled with great joy and we just felt a tremendous connection with him.

Q: Do you think that Catholic-Jewish relations had changed and are not going back although this Pope is no longer here?

Bemporad: Because of Vatican II and Pope John Paul II, I believe that the last century will be remembered as the century of reconciliation between Catholics and Jews. Because of Pope John Paul II, this century will see the full realization of his hopes.

Q: John Paul II considered Jews as his «older brothers.» Do you consider him as a «younger brother»?

Bemporad: Pope John Paul II understood that the Christian religion was rooted in Judaism and would have been inconceivable without the Old Testament. He said that the New Testament made explicit what was in the Old Testament.

He loved the prophet Isaiah and quoted him continually. He loved and revered the Old Testament and the Jewish people, and that came across in his words and his actions.

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