Pope John Paul II: Interreligious Dialogue and the Abrahamic Heritage with Rabbi Jack Bemporad

On May 25th, the JPII Center for Interreligious Dialogue was honoured to host a Public Lecture with Rabbi Jack Bemporad in which he explored the enormous impact that Pope John Paul II had on the relationships between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Rabbi Bemporad emphasized that one of the things that people should understand about John Paul II was his courage in the face of tragedy. “I think that John Paul II had an incredible encounter with tragedy, by the age of 20 he had already lost all the people he loved,” he reminded the many people that joined the online session. When Rabbi Jack reflected on how one deals with suffering, he said that the one virtue that one needs for tragedy is courage. Looking at this Pope’s experience living through the Nazi regime and Soviet Communism, the Rabbi said “When we face a tremendous amount of disharmony and hatred, we have to have the determination and courage to overcome it.

Having had 8 audiences and numerous personal meetings with Pope John Paul II, Rabbi Bemporad recounted his natural charisma. He explained that “People want to be known and when you were with him, you felt known.“ Rabbi Bemporad spoke of his sympathetic imagination of the other, “He had this capacity to look at you and see the vulnerability in you, the longings, and really connect to that.”

The Rabbi shared that John Paul II understood that the dignity and integrity of every human being was foundational. Church documents like Nostra Aetate (which JPII had a hand in drafting) that spoke about respect for people of other religious traditions were a first step but these words needed to be enacted. The Pope embodied these words when he walked into a synagogue in Rome in 1986 and into a Mosque in Damascus. Bemporad said that when he entered the mosque in Damascus in 2001 he said, “For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness.” To love someone is to create space for that person to love themselves, repent, and transform. He explained that John Paul II wanted the young people to witness peaceful relations between religions, and not be led into the misuse of sacred texts for violence.

Rabbi Jack explained that for Pope John Paul II – connecting to Christians’, Muslims’ and Jews’ collective Abrahamic heritage – our task in life is to be a blessing to one another. Our interreligious task is to seek peace. Let’s work together for peace!