18 October 2021

JPII Leader’s private audiences with the Pope and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

During the month of October, JPII Leader Emily Judd (Cohort XI) visited Rome for important meetings in her capacity of senior communications specialist for the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity. We reached out to her to hear more about her position and her special time and encounters in Rome.


What does your present position involve and how do you feel that the Russell Berrie Fellowship prepared you for that?

I am the senior communications specialist for the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity, an international, independent committee dedicated to promoting the values of the Document on Human Fraternity, which was co-signed in 2019 by two great religious figures in Christianity and Islam: His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the top Sunni Muslim religious authority in the world.

My experience in the Russell Berrie Fellowship – especially my friendships within my cohort and our travel to the Holy Land – gave me a deep appreciation for interreligious dialogue and its role in advancing global harmony. This belief instilled in me during the Fellowship – that dialogue and understanding can change the world for the better – drives my current work.

Through the Russell Berrie Fellowship’s education at the Angelicum, I gained knowledge about the three major Abrahamic faiths that helps me to understand, and communicate about, these religions in my current position, especially in relation to our initiative the Abrahamic Family House, a first-of-its-kind interfaith complex under construction in Abu Dhabi, which hosts a Jewish synagogue, a Christian church, and an Islamic mosque.

What have been the highlights of your work during this past year?

The highlights of my work during this past year have been moderating two HCHF virtual events, which brought together international religious leaders and diplomats to discuss critical issues including women’s rights and stability in Iraq. The first was the 2021 HCHF Women’s Forum, which featured female leaders of diverse backgrounds and faiths including the Vice President of Costa Rica, a minister from the United Arab Emirates, and the head of UN Women.

The second event was “Together for Iraq” which featured Sunni and Shia Iraqi religious leaders, an Iraqi minister, and the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Being able to shine a light on issues as important as women’s rights and stability in Iraq was rewarding.

You recently came to Rome for some meetings related to your work and had the chance of meeting personally both Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Tayyeb. Can you tell us more? What do you bring back home after these meetings?

In early October, I had the opportunity to attend two private audiences with both His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Rome. The meetings revolved around one of our specific initiatives – the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, which is a $1 million prize awarded annually on February 4 (the International Day of Human Fraternity) to an individual or entity whose work is advancing peaceful coexistence. The Pope and Grand Imam both expressed their support for our work, which was an amazing feeling.

As a devout Catholic, it felt like a dream come true to receive a blessing from Pope Francis and speak to him briefly in Italian. I was also touched to meet the Grand Imam who spoke about how God intentionally created people without uniformity, but instead with diversity, and therefore it is our responsibility to appreciate these God-ordained differences among humanity. The meetings gave me renewed inspiration in continuing the work of the Higher Committee.