Dubinsky shares highlights of AJC visit to the Vatican

St. Louisan Henry Dubinsky shakes hands with Pope Francis during an AJC trip to the Vatican in March.  


Henry Dubinsky, a past president of the local chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and a member of its national board since 1985, was recently part of an AJC leadership delegation that had a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican in early March.

Dubinsky, 77, is chairman of Waterway Gas & Wash.  He also serves on the AJC Executive Committee, and has traveled extensively to Europe, Asia and the Middle East as part of AJC’s outreach to nations around the world. His travels have taken him to such places as Bahrain at a time when that Arab nation had a Jewish ambassador to the United States.

He recently shared the experiences of his March trip to Italy and the Vatican at a meeting of the AJC St. Louis board of directors. The Jewish Light caught up with Dubinsky for a follow-up interview while he was in Florida.

What was the purpose of the AJC trip to the Vatican?

The early part of the Rome-Vatican visit afforded AJC delegates the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Italian-Jewish community in Rome.

What is the Jewish population of Italy?

When you ask an Italian Jew population questions, they will usually say about 15,000 Jews in Rome and 25,000 throughout Italy. Those are the members of Jewish organizations who have registered with the government.  Altogether, there may be as many as 40,000 Jews in Italy.

Do Italian Jews have the same concerns about anti-Semitism as French Jews?

The Italian Jews are concerned about anti-Semitism but do not feel under the same immediate threat as French Jews.

How did the invitation to the Vatican come about?

The AJC has had a long and cordial relationship with the Holy See. Rabbi David Rosen, leader of AJC’s Interreligious Affairs Department, has personal ties to the Vatican and was part of the negotiating team that  established diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican in the early l990s. During our visit, Rabbi Rosen spoke at an international conference on sustainability co-sponsored by the Vatican and the United Nations.

What was the atmosphere and the tone of the audience with Pope Francis? 

He was very cordial and gracious, and volunteered to have a group picture with us. He spoke to us in Italian, but we were given an English translation and could follow what he was saying. John Shapiro, AJC national president, spoke for the AJC. 

Any other highlights of the trip you would like to share?

We attended a very interesting theological debate at the Papal Gregorian University between Rabbi Rosen and Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican liaison to non-Catholic Christians and to the Jews. Overall, the visit was both interesting and constructive.