I’m sure many of us have told or heard stories of how close or far one was to Pope Francis during his Apostolic visit last week to our country. I had the privilege to be seated in a section of New York City’s Madison Square Garden last Friday and had a close view of the pope at the Mass there. But like most others, I didn’t have a close personal encounter. No, it seems the closest I got to Pope Francis is through the two men that had important roles in his election as Bishop of Rome.
Earlier this year, I personally met Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. He was the one who came out on the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, after the cardinals and their conclave had elected a new pope, and uttered the age old phrase, “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam!,” “I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope!”
The other is the man who spoke the last words before the conclave officially began, “Extra Omnes!,” “Everybody Out!” and closed the chapel doors so that the conclave could begin in cloister. He is also the Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, Msgr. Guido Marini.
There were several meetings and prayers that Pope Francis had with the wider Christian community and our interfaith friends. One such surprise interfaith happening his unannounced visit to St. Joseph’s University. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope, and with the university being a Jesuit school, rumors were circulating that he might drop by St. Joseph’s. You can imagine that the students, faculty and alumni that were there went wild when Pope Francis suddenly appeared on campus on his way to the Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway. When he arrived, he greeted students and university dignitaries and then blessed the “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” sculpture with holy water to the cheers of all present. Student Body Vice President Natalie Roche shook hands with the pope and received a medallion from him. She said to him, “Thank you for all the love and happiness,” and the pope responded to her, “I pray for you as you pray for me.”
The bronze work, by noted Philadelphia artist Joshua Koffman, was installed on Sept. 25 in front of the Chapel of St. Joseph on the campus, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that transformed the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish people. The sculpture is part of the celebration of Nostra Aetate that attempts to display in art the quantum leap made since the promulgation of the document in reversing erroneous views of Jews and Judaism. Nostra Aetate sought to repudiate centuries of Christian claims that Jews were blind enemies of God because of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, and that their spiritual life was superseded by Christianity.
The statue at St. Joseph’s University reflects the teaching of the Catholic Church today as enunciated clearly by the present and past four popes. “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” depicts synagogue and church as both proud crowned women, living in covenant with God side by side, and learning from one another’s sacred texts and traditions, discussing their distinctive experiences of the Holy One. According to the university’s director of the Jewish-Catholic Institute, Philip Cunningham, the sculpture brings to life the words of Pope Francis: “Dialogue and friendship with the Jewish people are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. There exists between us a rich complementarily that allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another mine the riches of God’s Word.”
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.