AJC Meeting with His Holiness, Pope Francis

Stanley M. Bergman, President, AJC

February 13, 2014

Your Holiness, we are deeply honored to meet with you. For the American Jewish Committee, meeting with you today represents a reunion and a renewal of our historic partnership. There are those among us whom you already know personally, others who do not; but we all come here with the deep feeling that you are our true friend.

We are profoundly grateful for your commitment to the Catholic-Jewish relationship, highlighted in your recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, in which you affirmed the ongoing Divine Presence in the life of the Jewish People and emphasized the importance of the 'values of Judaism' for Christians. We were especially moved by your words that:

“the friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which the (Jewish people) have endured and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.”

The memory of this sad history gives us great appreciation for the amazing blessed transformation of our relationship and our rediscovered brotherhood and sisterhood "in our times."

On a personal note, I also wanted to share with you just how inspiring and impactful your commitment to engaging with people around the world has been. I was fortunate to participate in the World Economic Forum last month. Your special message, read by Cardinal Appiah Turkson, which urged leaders "to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it" was so inspiring to the world leaders participating in Davos.

We are very proud that AJC – now more than a hundred years old – has been the Catholic Church’s steadfast partner in transforming the Catholic – Jewish relationship. In fact, in 1957 the AJC was the only Jewish organization to be received by Pope Pius XII, and it was at that meeting that Pope Pius XII condemned anti-Semitism and issued a call to the nations of the world to provide havens for the victims of persecution.

Our trail blazing relations with the Holy See led to the request for AJC’s contribution to the work of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council convened by Blessed Pope John XXIII. In addition to the memoranda that AJC provided on Jewish-Catholic relations, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s momentous meeting with Cardinal Bea is very well known to you. AJC’s interreligious leadership was pleased to present you with a copy of the famous photo of that meeting when they recently met with you as part of the official representative group of Jewish organizations.

On this treasured occasion, we give thanks to God for the wondrous transformation in Catholic-Jewish relations that was ushered in by Pope John XXIII with Vatican II and the promulgation of the declaration Nostra Aetate. We wish to express our profound appreciation for the close collaboration AJC has enjoyed over the years, particularly with the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Your Holiness, AJC was established to protect and advance the welfare of the Jewish community as well as democratic values worldwide. Tragically, the need to fight the scourge of anti-Semitism has not diminished in certain parts of the world.Indeed, this virus of human hatred has seen resurgence in recent years. We have deeply appreciated the categorical repudiation of this evil by the Holy See, which your predecessors described as “a sin against God and man.”

It has always been AJC’s fundamental conviction that the Jewish community can only thrive where the rights of all people are protected. We have continuously fought against all prejudice and bigotry; sought to promote the well-being and human rights of all communities; and raised our voice on behalf of all those who are victims of bigotry and violence. As you know, this includes our ongoing actions on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world, and our profound concern for the future of Christian communities, especially in the Middle East, a region of such unique significance for us all.

We were grateful that the Holy See honored AJC by inviting our International Director of Interreligious Affairs, Rabbi David Rosen, to be the only Jewish spokesperson at the Special Vatican Synod on the future of Christianity in the Middle East. Tragically, since that Synod, matters in the Middle East appear to have worsened. Yet we take comfort in the fact that perhaps the safest place for Christians in the region today is in the Jewish state.

Of course, there are still many challenges in Israel, even in terms of Jewish-Christian relations. These may have to do with practical security concerns and overcoming the traumas of the past. However, we are encouraged by the significant positive developments in Jewish-Christian relations in Israel, particularly since the historic pilgrimages of Pope John Paul II and later Pope Benedict XVI.

Your upcoming visit to the Holy Land is now eagerly anticipated and will surely be an inspiration to allin the region to reject the path of violence and pursue the paths of peace. We share the obligation to do our utmost to advance the dignity of all people as the call of our Biblical heritage, our “shared patrimony” as Nostra Aetate terms it. As you have stated, “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.”

Thank you, your Holiness, for our time together. We take this opportunity to reaffirm our deep commitment to the special fraternal relationship between our two communities and to thank you profoundly for your exceptional leadership in this regard. May we continue to go from strength to strength.

Media Inquiries

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