Rabbi Bemporad & Pope John Paul II
Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s Birth
May 18th, 2020 marked the One hundredth anniversary of the birth of Saint Pope John Paul II, who, according to Rabbi Jack Bemporad, “did more than any other Pope to inspire and energize the open and honest dialogue among religions, and not just among different Christian denominations, but with Judaism, Islam, and all religions.
Bemporad explained, “He is remembered by the world Jewish community as a courageous and transformational figure who did more than anyone to heal the wounds of the past and build bridges for the future between Christianity and Judaism. He was the first pope to visit the Great Synagogue in Rome as well as the first pope to enter a Mosque. He authorized Cardinal Edward Cassidy to issue the “We Remember” statement on the Holocaust and 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. 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 left a legacy of hope.”
Rabbi Bemporad had a special and enduring relationship with Pope John Paul II, as well as with earlier and later popes. In 1959, as a newly ordained Reform rabbi, Bemporad joined with other community leaders in an audience with Pope John XXIII to discuss world hunger.
Bemporad would have numerous personal audiences with Pope John Paul II, including a 1990 celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Vatican II in which he gave an address on Christian-Jewish relations on behalf of the world Jewish community; during the Papal visit to Denver, Colorado, in 1993; a 40-minute private meeting at the Vatican in 1994 to discuss the new Catholic catechism’s teachings on Jews and Judaism; and in 2000, when he presented the Holy See with a menorah in remembrance of the Jews who perished during the Holocaust.
In 1999, Rabbi Bemporad delivered an address at the Vatican’s Conference on Interreligious Relations before 50,000 people at St. Peters, including Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, and religious leaders from throughout the world.
Then, in January 2005, Bemporad joined more than 130 Jewish leaders, rabbis, and cantors at the Vatican for the largest audience of Jewish leaders to meet with a seated Pope. Rabbi Bemporad and two other Rabbis blessed the then ailing Pope with the Priestly blessing, in recognition of the Holy See’s historic steps to improve relations between Catholics and Jews.