Published April 7, 2005
The American Jewish Committee, an international Jewish organization that has advanced inter-religious understanding worldwide for more than half a century, worked with the pope directly on numerous occasions at the Vatican.
The executive director of the group’s Atlanta chapter, Sherry Frank, noted the passing of Pope John Paul II with this statement.
“The American Jewish Committee profoundly mourns the passing of Pope John Paul II. He was the central figure of our times in the remarkable transformation in Catholic-Jewish relations in particular, and Christian-Jewish relations, in general.
“Pope John Paul II will be remembered throughout the world for his unparalleled religious leadership, his historic role in the collapse of communism, and as a universal voice of conscience in troubled times. The Jewish community also will remember him with particular affection—no Pope had ever given the degree of attention to Jewish communities worldwide or received Jewish leadership at the Vatican so readily and so extensively as did John Paul II.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, representing more than 100,000 Jews across metro Atlanta, expressed sympathy on the loss of Pope John Paul II.
“This extraordinary man, so inspirational to the Christian world, was deeply respected by Jews as well,” said Steven A. Rakitt, chief executive officer of The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. “As we have learned, Pope John Paul’s boyhood experiences and friendships with Jewish neighbors in Poland opened his heart to the tragedy of Jewish persecution, years before World War II and years before he entered the priesthood.”
“The Holy Father’s condemnation of anti-Semitism, along with his courageous expressions of reconciliation in ‘Nostra Aetate,’ changed Catholic-Jewish relations forever. Under his papacy, the Vatican declared that Jews do not bear collective responsibility for the death of Christ, and with equal firmness, the Vatican acknowledged Anti-Zionism as a form of Anti-Semitism.
“Most powerfully, Pope John Paul II used his physical presence to bring down centuries-old barriers of hatred.”
“He was the first Pope in centuries to visit a synagogue,” Rakitt added. “He was the first Pope to visit Israel and to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. To see the Pope in prayer at our holy sites in Israel—Yad Vashem and the Western Wall—was a testament to his vision of respect and peace. His moving words are forever written upon our hearts: ‘We wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.’”