Pope Francis paid an unscheduled visit to St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia this afternoon to bless a statue celebrating improved Vatican relations with the Jewish community. The bronze statue, titled “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time,” depicts two figures — signifying Christianity and Judaism — sitting beside each other and displaying their sacred texts in postures of dialogue. “This statue is exactly a demonstration of two sisters of the same dignity, the church and the synagogue,” said Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi. The statue, which was crafted by a Philadelphia native, revolutionizes past artwork on relations between the Catholic Church and Jewish communities. In the past, the Catholic Church was often depicted as a triumphant figure celebrating its defeat of a blindfolded woman representing the Jewish community. The Jesuit St. Joseph’s University installed th09e statue on Friday in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document that reformed relations between Christianity and Judaism. Nostra Aetate condemned anti-Semitism and promoted unity and dialogue between Catholics and Jewish communities. The statue is placed outside of a Catholic chapel. Pope Francis made the unscheduled stop on his way to celebrate the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. He visited with St. Joseph’s students and administration as well as several religious leaders, including the Pope’s close friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-authored a book with Pope Francis about interreligious dialogue. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community have been a major priority for St. Joseph’s University, which established the Institute for Jewish-Catholic relations in 1967 — just two years after Nostra Aetate’s publication. Pope Francis has also had a major emphasis on Jewish-Catholic relations during his pontificate — and even before. During his pastoral visit to the Holy Land in 2014, Pope Francis detailed to the Chief Rabbis of Israel his respect and appreciation for dialogue. “As you know, from the time I was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, I have counted many Jews among my friends,” he said. “Together we organized rewarding occasions of encounter and dialogue; with them I also experienced significant moments of sharing on a spiritual level. In the 2014 meeting, Pope Francis referred to the many requests for meetings and improving relations between Jewish leaders and the Popes of the last decades as “one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council” and “a genuine gift of God.” “Together, we an make a great contribution to the cause of peace; together, we can bear witness, in this rapidly changing world, to the perennial importance of the divine plan of creation; together, we can firmly oppose every form of anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination.” Today is the final day of Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the United States. He will return to Rome this evening after Mass at Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
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