Two-post Holocaust popes proclaimed saints by Catholic church

Marcy Oster

ROME (JTA) – Two post-Holocaust popes who revolutionized relations between Catholics and Jews were proclaimed saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

At an unprecedented ceremony Sunday in St. Peter’s Square attended by huge crowds of faithful and watched live around the world, Pope Francis canonized popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

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Calling them “men of courage,” he said they were “priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century” who “lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful.”

It was the first time that two popes were canonized at the same time.

John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI, who stepped down from the papacy last year, came out of retirement to attend.

John XXIII, born Angelo Roncalli in northern Italy, reigned as pope from 1958 to 1963. He worked to save Jews when he was a papal diplomat during World War II. As pope he convened the Second Vatican Council, whose landmark Nostra Aetate declaration in 1965 rejected the charge that the Jews killed Jesus, condemned anti-Semitism and opened the way to dialogue between Jews and Catholics.

Polish-born John Paul, born Karol Wojtyla, reigned from 1978 to 2005 and made bettering relations between Catholics and Jews a cornerstone of his papacy. He was the first pope since ancient times to visit a synagogue, and took many other steps, including praying at the Western Wall and overseeing the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel.

Jewish leaders and organizations have welcomed the double declaration of sainthood. “These two popes were integral to the post-Holocaust transformation of Catholic and wider Christian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism. It’s easy to take this change for granted, but this development moved the church from a force that endangered Jewish survival to one committed to the future of Jews and Judaism,” Noam E. Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations, wrote in an Op-Ed.

“We must never forget the centuries of Christian enmity that preceded the Holocaust, but we must also be ready to praise those who modeled a new narrative for the billions of souls in their care,” he added.

A Jewish delegation including about 18 representatives from the United States, Italy, Israel, Poland and Pope Francis’ native Argentina attended the canonization.

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