Progress between Catholic and Jewish communities could emerge

Progress between Catholic and Jewish communities could emerge

Rabbi Alvin K. Berkun meeting Pope Francis
Rabbi Alvin K. Berkun meeting Pope Francis

A local rabbi was part of the first Jewish group summoned to the Vatican for a meeting with recently elected Pope Francis.

Rabbi Alvin K. Berkun, rabbi and emeritus of Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha, and a longtime member of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), traveled with other representatives from the committee as they visited the Vatican to meet with the pontiff.

IJCIC, with its nearly 40 years of history as an official dialogue partner of the Vatican, was the first Jewish organization to be summoned to meet with Pope Francis, Berkun said.

IJCIC serves on behalf of and as an instrument of its constituent member organizations to maintain and develop relations with the Vatican’s Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews, Orthodox Christian Church, World Council of Churches and other international religious bodies.       

The pope received IJCIC at the Apostolic Palace, opening his remarks with “Elder brothers and sisters, shalom,” Berkun said. He went on to condemn hatred of Jews and anti-Semitism of any kind by Christians, saying that due to common roots, Christians cannot be anti-Semitic, according to Berkun.

Francis addressed the group collectively for about five minutes and then made his way to speak with committee members individually.

Berkun showed the pontiff a photo he took of a rabbi and a priest during a trip in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Berkun discussed several Pittsburgh initiatives between Catholics and Jews, including the Catholic-Jewish Educational Enhancement Program (run by PAJC) in which rabbis teach classes at Catholic schools in the city.

This is not the first time that Berkun met the man who is currently the leader of the world’s Catholic community.  Berkun met Francis, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, during his 2004 visit to Buenos Aires, the pope’s hometown and where he has had an ongoing relationship with the rabbis in the Jewish community in Buenos Aires.

Berkun approved of the pope’s comments and said he believed that progress could be made between the Catholic and Jewish communities if the pope continued to deliver the same message.   

“What he needs to do is keep saying the things he said to us, which is that anti-Semitism is a sin against the church,” Berkun said.  “The more that the Catholics hear those kind of comments coming from the pope himself, the more they will be reluctant to be anti-Semitic.”

(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at