Pope Francis Receives AJC Leadership Delegation at Vatican, Strongly Denounces Anti-Semitism

March 8, 2019 – Vatican City – American Jewish Committee (AJC) President John Shapiro led a leadership delegation during a private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican today.

Pope Francis spoke of the church’s longstanding relationship with AJC and the value of interreligious dialogue. “Your commitment to Jewish-Christian dialogue goes back to Nostra Aetate, a milestone in our journey of fraternal reckoning,” Pope Francis said to the visiting AJC leaders.

The Pope expressed “great concern” about “an excessive and depraved hatred” spreading in many places around the world. “I think especially of the outbreak of anti-Semitic attacks in various countries,” said Pope Francis. “I stress that for a Christian any form of anti-Semitism is a rejection of one’s own origins, a complete contradiction.”

“In the fight against hatred and anti-Semitism an important tool is interreligious dialogue, aimed at promoting a commitment to peace, mutual respect, the protection of life, religious and the care of creation,” he said.

Shapiro, addressing the Pope during the audience, praised him for the role he has played in the “historic reconciliation” between Jews and Catholics.

“It is a great joy for this leadership group of the American Jewish Committee to meet with you and to express deep appreciation for the special relationship we have enjoyed with the Holy See over more than half a century,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro expressed appreciation for the Pope’s announcement earlier this week that the Vatican Archives covering the World War II period and papacy of Pius XII will be opened to international researchers in 2020. “We look forward especially to the involvement of the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the U.S. to objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as valiant efforts during the period of the Shoah,” Shapiro said.

He also referred in his remarks to the persecution of Christians today, the rise of anti-Semitism, and the Jewish people’s enduring link to Israel.

For this audience, AJC has dedicated the first vine in the Vineyard of the Nations at My Tree in (Beit Shemesh) Israel in honor of Pope Francis. It will annually yield wine for the Pope. David Inlander, Chair of AJC’s Interreligious Affairs Commission, presented the gift.

In addition to the papal audience, the AJC delegation held a series of meetings in the Vatican with key Holy See officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

The delegation of 35 AJC leaders included CEO David Harris; Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, who was knighted by the Vatican in 2005; Rabbi Noam Marans, Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations; and Lisa Palmieri-Billig, Representative in Rome and Liaison to the Holy See.

AJC professional and lay leadership meet regularly with senior Catholic prelates at the Vatican and worldwide. These ongoing meetings complement today’s AJC papal audience. The first AJC leadership private audience with Pope Francis took place in 2014, a year after his election.

A pioneer in advancing Catholic-Jewish relations over many decades, AJC enjoys close, cooperative relations with Catholic leadership in the Vatican and globally. Indeed, the late John Cardinal O’Connor said: “No organization I know in this city (New York), in this country, in this world, has done more to improve Christian—Jewish relations than the American Jewish Committee.”

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