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Simon Wiesenthal Center: Newly Sainted Popes are Heroes to the Jewish People

April 18, 2014

The Simon Wiesenthal Center joins with Catholics around the world in acknowledging the remarkable contribution of the two Popes canonized this Easter Sunday.

“Jews will always remember Pope John XXIII as the animating force behind the Vatican II Council that changed the way Catholics looked at other faiths, especially Judaism. The Nostra Aetate document that ensued from it pulled the plug on centuries of theological anti-Semitism and put relationships between Christians and Jews on a new footing of mutual respect,” observed Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs.

“Pope John Paul II termed the theory of Nostra Aetate into dramatic proactive”, noted Rabbi Abraham Cooper the associate dean of the Center.” He became the first Pope to visit a Jewish house of worship, embracing Rome’s Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff and calling Jews the ‘elder brother’ of Christians. Two other dramatic deeds-- one practical, the other symbolic – forever secured him a special place in the hearts of the Jewish people. First was his decision establishing full diplomatic relations with the Jewish State of Israel. Later when visiting Jerusalem, he slipped a note into the Western Wall acknowledging the Jewish blood of generations that had been shed in the name of Christianity and prayed for forgiveness. It was a gesture that will never be forgotten.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who met twice with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, recalled his recent audience with Pope Francis and their conversation about the work of these two great predecessors, “We thanked him for his ongoing commitment to fight anti-Semitism and underscored our commitment to work with the Pope to protect the rights of religious minorities, especially embattled Christians.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).

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