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April 20, 2014 12:25 pm
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Wiesenthal Center: Newly Sainted Popes Are Heroes to the Jewish People

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Pope John Paul II with Rabbi Cooper (left) and Rabbi Marvin Hier (center). Photo: SWC.

Pope John Paul II with Rabbi Cooper (left) and Rabbi Marvin Hier (center). Photo: SWC.

Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center at the weekend said it joined with Catholics around the world in acknowledging the remarkable contributions of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II canonized on Easter Sunday.

In a statement, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs, said, “Jews will always remember Pope John XXIII as the animating force behind the Vatican II Council that changed the way Catholics looked at other faiths, especially Judaism. The Nostra Aetate document that ensued from it pulled the plug on centuries of theological anti-Semitism and put relationships between Christians and Jews on a new footing of mutual respect.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate SWC dean, said, “Pope John Paul II termed the theory of Nostra Aetate into dramatic proactive. He became the first Pope to visit a Jewish house of worship, embracing Rome’s Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff and calling Jews the ‘elder brother’ of Christians.”

“Two other dramatic deeds- one practical, the other symbolic – forever secured him a special place in the hearts of the Jewish people,” Cooper said. “First was his decision establishing full diplomatic relations with the Jewish State of Israel. Later when visiting Jerusalem, he slipped a note into the Western Wall acknowledging the Jewish blood of generations that had been shed in the name of Christianity and prayed for forgiveness. It was a gesture that will never be forgotten.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean and Founder of SWC, who met twice with Pope John II at the Vatican, said of his recent meeting with Pope Francis I: “We thanked him for his ongoing commitment to fight anti-Semitism and underscored our commitment to work with the Pope to protect the rights of religious minorities, especially embattled Christians.”

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