Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting Pope Francis, accompanied by my wife, Susie, and members of a small delegation of Jewish leaders from IJCIC (International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations), of which the CCAR is a member.
We met at the Apostolic Palace, the Pope’s official residence, though he has chosen to live in more modest accommodations at Casa Santa Marta residence, adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica. On the way to the meeting, we passed through a number of ornately decorated rooms, some containing elevated papal thrones. Our session, however, took place in an intimate, relatively unadorned parlor. The Pope entered without fanfare and sat in an armchair at floor level, garbed in a plain white cassock and comfortable-looking black shoes (no red Pradas!)
He told us that this was his first time, as Pope, to talk with an official group of representatives of Jewish organizations and communities, expressing firm condemnation of anti-Semitism, commitment to greater awareness and mutual understanding among Jews and Catholics, and genuine personal friendship.
The Pope told us that “Humanity needs our joint witness in favor of respect for the dignity of man and woman created in the image and likeness of God, and in favor of peace which is above all God’s gift,” concluding his remarks with “Shalom,” and asking for our prayers and assuring us of his own.
It was a moving and memorable experience to meet a man of such genuine humility, piety, sincerity and inner strength, who is already making a powerful impact on the Roman Catholic Church and a world of admirers.
Rabbi Rick Block is Senior Rabbi of The Temple – Tifereth Israel in Cleveland and Beachwood, Ohio, and President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.