WJC Delegation Meets Pope in Vatican

At the top of the agenda in WJC talks with the Pope was a resurgent anti-Semitism, including the part played in it by a Polish Catholic priest.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz ,

Roman Catholic pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI
Roman Catholic pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI

A delegation from the New York-based World Jewish Congress (WJC) met with the supreme Roman Catholic pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, in Vatican City on Monday. At the top of the agenda was a resurgent
Benedict said that the issue of Catholic-Jewish relations was very close to his heart.
anti-Semitism in Europe, including the part played by Tadeusz Rydzyk, an influential Catholic priest and radio broadcaster in Poland. 

According to a statement, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder expressed his appreciation for the Pope's efforts in support of the Jewish people. Pope Benedict said that the issue of Catholic-Jewish relations was very close to his heart. "We have made such great progress over the last four decades that it should be possible to work even more closely together," Lauder told the pontiff.

WJC delegates said that the Pope expressed his awareness of growing anti-Semitism and his hope that it could be defeated through greater education. Neither the Vatican nor the WJC revealed if the pope made any specific commitment regarding the anti-Semitic radio broadcasts of Father Rydzyk in Poland. The WJC statement said that the delegates "called on the Pontiff to take action against those in the Church who wanted to do damage to the close and positive relationship between Christians and Jews."

"Anti-Semitic statements by the Polish priest Tadeusz Rydzyk, owner of the ultra-conservative Catholic station Radio Maryja should not be tolerated any more," Lauder told the Pope. Radio Maryja and the affiliated television station Trwam are watched and listened to by millions of Poles.

The delegates included WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, WJC Secretary-General Michael Schneider and WJC Deputy Secretary-General Dr. Maram Stern. The WJC visit to Vatican City included a dinner on Sunday evening hosted by Lauder and Schneider, which was attended by cardinals, ambassadors to the Vatican, and other officials. On Monday, the WJC representatives met in private with Pope Benedict. 

In August, Pope Benedict met with Rydzyk in Canstelgandolfo, the Pope's summer residence near Rome. At the time, Jewish groups warned that the encounter lent the anti-Semitic priest legitimacy. Last year, the Pope reprimanded Rydzyk and ordered Poland's bishops to monitor his radio station. However, according to the European Jewish Press, the supervision has failed to moderate Rydzyk's broadcasts.

In addition, the WJC delegates discussed with the Catholic leader the threat posed to the Jewish people, Israel and the West by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Pope advocated an educational approach in the case of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Islamist
The Pope advocated an educational approach in the case of Ahmadinejad.
leadership of Iran, as well. The Vatican and the WJC leaders discussed ways in which Christians, Muslims and Jews could work to improve dialogue.

During a speech on Sunday night, Lauder called for "tripartite bridges of tolerance and understanding" that would include moderate Muslims. The WJC president said he believed that engaging in dialogue with moderate Muslim leaders would discourage supporters of Islamist terrorism.

In addition to issues of specific and immediate concern for the Jewish people, the WJC delegation raised the possibility of joint initiatives with the Vatican to provide humanitarian assistance in poor countries. Lauder then invited Pope Benedict to host a "joint event" when a Vatican delegation visits the United States next year.