The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America notes with great sadness the passing of Pope John Paul II. The historic and landmark contributions that he made to Catholic-Jewish relations were pioneering and invaluable. The Pope’s denunciation of anti-Semitism as a sin against God, which he made as he traveled around the world, is all the more important in light of the alarming trends we see today.
Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit a synagogue, in April of 1986, as he visited the Orthodox Synagogue in Rome. The Jewish community had long called for diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See and in 1993-1994 Pope John Paul II announced formalization of these relations. He made constant references to the memory of the Shoah (the Holocaust) and called the twentieth century “The century of the Shoah,” so that the tragedy will never be repeated again. The Pope’s visceral reaction to the Holocaust was made evident by his visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, in Israel. Moreover, he was the first Pope to visit the President of Israel at his residence and the Chief Rabbis of Israel at the Rabbinate.
Furthermore, we recognize the Pope’s contributions to many important ethical and moral principles, especially regarding the sanctity of life and the desire for true peace. We also recognize his deep spirituality and his teaching of the importance of tradition and the continuing relevance of religion in contemporary life.
He was a Pope for the ages. We fervently hope that the good will between the Jewish and Catholic communities that was engendered by the historic steps taken by Pope John Paul II will resonate among us in perpetuity and that his memory will be a constant inspiration for world peace and harmony.