From John Allen’s column of 1/20/95
Jan. 18 audience with the pope, which, as I told the BBC Tuesday morning, sounds a bit like an old pub joke: “A hundred rabbis walk into a room with the pope …” In this case, however, the punch line was not a laugh, but a hearty expression of gratitude from Jews who said they feel that sometimes Jewish organizations don’t give adequate credit to the Catholic church, either for the historic changes in its teaching on Judaism since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), or the personal commitment of this pope to combating anti-Semitism.
This was by most accounts the largest papal audience ever with a group of Jews. Normally when the World Jewish Congress or the Anti-Defamation League comes to visit, the delegation is composed of 15-20 people.
Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, who directs the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, said that while some Catholics “don’t know” about the revolution since Vatican II, many Jews “don’t believe it.” In that light, Ehrenkranz said, the Jan. 18 audience was an opportunity for Jewish leaders to publicly acknowledge that the transformation is for real.
The event was organized by an American Jew named Gary Krupp, a medical supplies professional who was named a Knight of St. Gregory by John Paul II in 2000 for his support of the southern Italian hospital founded by the famed Capuchin mystic and stigmatic, Padre Pio, called the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (“house for the relief of suffering”).
I met Krupp and his wife Meredith over dinner in Rome, and he explained that the award came as a shock. It makes him only the seventh Jew, and just the third one still alive, to be a papal knight. That reality, he said, made him think that perhaps God wanted something from him by way of promoting understanding among the religions.
The result is Krupp’s “Pave the Way” Foundation, the motto of which is, “Embrace our similarities, savor our differences.” Its vision is not limited to Jewish-Catholic relations, and in fact Krupp’s support staff on this Rome trip was composed in part of a handful of volunteer Scientologists. Yet given Krupp’s background, the Jewish-Catholic relationship seemed an obvious place to start.
The agenda of the Jan. 18 audience was two-fold. The overt part was to thank John Paul II for his unique personal commitment to Jews and to Judaism.
“You have defended the Jewish people at every opportunity, as a priest in Poland and in your pontificate,” he said. He recalled John Paul’s 1986 visit to the Roman synagogue, the first by a pope since the time of the primitive church, and his 2000 trip to Israel. Krupp said the pope embodies the “spirit of Aaron, the high priest of ancient Israel.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Krupp said. “Shalom, shalom, shalom.” After he finished, three rabbis blessed John Paul in Hebrew and English.
John Paul gave a brief set of remarks.
“This year we will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate, which has significantly contributed to the strengthening of Jewish-Catholic dialogue,” he 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.”