The pope drove up the incline and arrived in front of St. Peter’s
Basilica. The people who were there to meet him sat on both sides of his dais.
There were clergymen from all over the world: Cardinals, Bishops, and priests
from the Catholic Church. 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 publicly from the Pope’s dais. The Pope waved to us.
When the formal ceremony, lasting about two hours ended, the Pope
came off his dais and moved along the receiving line to greet us. Gary
introduced me to the Pope warmly with my formal titles. I gave the Pope a
special gift we had gotten for him. It was a beautiful dual-time Phillip Stein
watch. 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 to share the issues
I had prepared. 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 when you wear it the future of the Jew
people will always be on your mind, as Israel struggles with existential
threats, like Iran, who threaten to wipe it off the map. You’re voice against
these threats is essential, your holiness.”
He said ‘Yes,’ nodding his head in agreement, and I continued.
”In addition, Your holiness, the dual clock face is a symbol
of my request that you please 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
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 said warmly, ‘We will work together. We
will work together.’ He held my hand while we spoke. The watch we gave the Pope
as a gift has special resonance because the owner, Will Stein, is an orthodox
German who converted to Judaism.
I had invited my close friends David Victor, Chairman of the Board
of AIPAC, and Rodney Adler, to the meeting with the Pope. Rodney emphasized to
the Pope the importance of partnering with me on creating 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 and threatens to
destroy Israel and is building nuclear weapons.’ The Pope said, “I have spoken
about it and will continue to.”
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 to the Cardinal and made a strong pitch for the
importance of the worldwide Church partnering with us to create our
international family dinner initiative. The Cardinal, a very pleasant priest
from Germany who has been close friends with Pope Benedict for forty years,
strongly endorsed the idea and related his memories of family dinners with his
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, seemingly anti-family. It was essential, I argued, that the
Church recapture its reputation as one of the world’s foremost champions of the
family. He agreed emphatically and said he agreed that the Church should
partner with us.
My friend David Victor then again brought up the threat that Iran
poses to Israel. The Cardinal said that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to
the world. He asked David to write to him and Cardinal Bertone, the Cardinal
Secretary of State, with suggestions of what could be done.
It was an exciting day. Five of my nine children were with me, as
well as both my parents.
I’ll share more later, G-d willing.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This
World: The Values Network. On May 14th he
will publish his major work on Jewish values, Renewal: A Guide to the
Values-Filled Life. www.shmuley.com
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