No Holds Barred: My meeting with the pope

It was essential, I argued, that the Church recapture its reputation as one of the foremost champions of the family.

May 1, 2010 22:57
4 minute read.
RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH meets Pope Benedict XVI at t

shmuley boteach with pope 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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I had a meeting with the pope at his Wednesday audience last week. It was an exciting day. Five of my nine children were with me, as well as both of my parents.

First, let me describe the setting. There were approximately 15,000 people from all over the world in St. Peter’s Square, speaking an untold number of languages. The sun shone brightly. The day was perfect.

The pope arrived in his open-top “pope-mobile” to great fanfare. I assumed they didn’t need the protective bubble because each person present had been screened.

As the pope was driven among the crowd, people shouted, “Viva Papa” (Long live the pope). There seemed to be genuine affection among the Catholic pilgrims.

The pope was driven up the incline and arrived in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The people there to meet him sat on both sides of his dais. There were clergymen: cardinals, bishops and priests. I sat next to three Anglican bishops from the UK. With me was my friend Gary Krupp, head of the Pave the Way Foundation (who had arranged the visit), and several of his officers.

The pope read greetings in five languages, and an American priest welcomed our group from the pope’s dais. The pope waived to us.

When the formal ceremony – which lasted about two hours – ended, the pope moved along the receiving line to greet us. Gary introduced me warmly, using my formal titles. I gave the pope a special gift we had gotten for him: a beautiful dual-time Phillip Stein watch. It has special resonance because the owner, Will Stein, is an Orthodox German convert to Judaism. The pope lit up when he saw it and said, “Look, it has two faces on it,” which, as it happened, was the perfect introduction for me.

I said, “Pope Benedict, it’s an honor to meet you. This watch has the times of Rome and Jerusalem on it, signifying the eternal friendship between our two faiths. I also hope that whenever you wear it, the future of the Jewish people will be on your mind, as Israel struggles with existential threats such as Iran, which threatens to wipe it off the map. Your voice against these threats is essential, your holiness.” 

He said “Yes,” nodding so I continued.
“In addition, the dual face is a symbol of my request that you join us in establishing a global family-dinner night which we call, ‘Turn Friday Night into Family Night.’ It involves what we call the triple two: Two hours of uninterrupted time that parents give their kids, inviting two guests, just as I am your guest today, and discussing two important subjects.” 

While I said this, Pope Benedict again nodded.

I concluded, “Your holiness, it’s so important that our two religions work together on this.”
He replied warmly: “We will work together. We will work together,” and held my hand.

I HAD invited my close friends David Victor, chairman of AIPAC, and Rodney Adler, to the meeting. Rodney emphasized the importance of partnering with me to create an international family-dinner night and how much he believed in the idea. The pope again warmly agreed.

David then respectfully but firmly pressed the pope on the need to address the Iran crisis – “a regime which denies the Holocaust, threatens to destroy Israel and is building nuclear weapons.”

The pope replied: “I have spoken about it, and will continue to do so.”

As soon as the meeting was over, I was granted another meeting with Cardinal Walter Casper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. Gary introduced me and made a strong pitch for the importance of partnering with us to further our international family-dinner initiative. The cardinal, a pleasant priest from Germany who has been friends with Pope Benedict for 40 years, strongly endorsed the idea and related memories of family dinners with his own parents.

I made the case to the cardinal that the pedophile-priest scandal has many influential American commentators skewering the Church for being an all-boys’ club, and thus seemingly anti-family.

It was essential, I argued, that the Church recapture its reputation as a champion of the family. He agreed emphatically, and said he agreed that the Church should partner with us.

David Victor then again brought up the threat Iran poses to Israel. The cardinal said Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the world. He asked David to write to him and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, with suggestions of what could be done.

I hope to share more in my next column.

The writer is the international best-selling author of 23 books, winner of the Times of London Preacher of the Year award and winner of the American Jewish Press Association’s highest award for excellence in commentary.

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