Rabbi Block Meets the Pope

Copy of the Cleveland Jewish News article

RabbiBlockandPopeFrancisRabbi Richard A. Block, left, senior rabbi at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood and Cleveland, shakes hands with Pope Francis at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace in Rome.

Rabbi Richard Block and Pope Francis

Rabbi Block meets the Pope

‘Very moving and inspiring experience’

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013 8:30 am


Rabbi Richard A. Block had a chance to meet one-on-one with Pope Francis June 24 at the Vatican in Rome and came away impressed.

“Pope Francis is an extraordinarily warm, genuine, humble man,” said Block, senior rabbi at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood and Cleveland, in an email interview from Rome.

“He enjoyed very warm relations with the Jewish community in Argentina and expressed the desire and intention to deepen relations between Jews and Catholics during his papacy. I am very confident of his sincerity.”

Block was the only Ohio representative in a delegation of about 20 Jewish leaders from the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations that met with Francis at the Apostolic Palace, the pope’s official residence. The trip was arranged by the IJCIC, which seeks to develop better Jewish-Christian relations.

“(Francis) told us that this was his first time, as pope, to have talked with an official group of representatives of Jewish organizations and communities,” Block said. “He expressed firm condemnation of anti-Semitism, commitment to greater awareness and mutual understanding by Jews and Catholics and genuine personal friendship.”

Francis spoke to the Jewish delegation after a brief speech by Lawrence Schiffman, vice provost of undergraduate education and professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University in New York, who headed the group.

“Each of us then had the opportunity to speak briefly with (Francis) individually,” Block said. “I introduced myself and my wife, Susie, told him briefly about the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) and presented him with an inscribed copy of our new CCAR Passover haggadah, ‘Sharing the Journey.’ We wished each other God’s blessing.”

Block, who was installed in March as president of the CCAR, said he had never met a pope before. But he has met Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as many Israeli presidents and prime ministers.

“On the way to the meeting room, which was intimate and relatively unadorned, we passed through several very ornate rooms containing papal thrones on raised platforms,” Block said. “By contrast, when we met, the pope was seated in a plain armchair on floor level.”

The Jewish delegation also met with Zion Evrony, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Block said.

“IJCIC and Vatican representatives have a long-standing relationship of dialogue and interchange,” he said.

Block said the delegation did not travel as a group. He and his wife arrived in Rome June 23 and were to return June 26.

“It was a very moving and inspiring experience,” he said.

In a blog he posted June 13 in The Times of Israel, a Jerusalem-based online newspaper, Block wrote that Catholic-Jewish relations have undergone “a profound transformation” since the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962.

“Steadily, but not without occasional difficulties, relations between the Catholic Church and world Jewry have progressed for half a century,” he wrote. “I and other Jewish leaders invited to the papal audience … know that we will be meeting a friend, not an adversary and certainly not an enemy.”