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One of the pope’s unscheduled stops: to bless a statue showing respect for Jewish people

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 09/28/15

2015Mar10-1

This didn’t get much attention, but it should. From The Forward:

Nearly 50 years after the Vatican officially proclaimed Jews free of guilt in the killing of Jesus, Pope Francis made a surprise change to his schedule on the final day of his U.S. tour to convey his own message of respect for the Jewish people. In an unannounced event, the pontiff stopped Sunday to bless a sculpture commissioned by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia that repudiates a centuries-old anti-Semitic image. At his side, was Rabbi Abraham Skorka, his good friend and literary collaborator, who had flown in from Buenos Aires, to be the keynote speaker at the dedication of the work, which took place on Friday. …Titled “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time,” the sculpture is of two women seated next to each other, much like two sisters. One holds a book, the other a scroll, and they are looking at each other’s sacred texts in mutual respect. (Nostra Aetate means ‘in our time.”) The work was designed to counter a medieval motif depicting the triumph of Christianity over Judaism. In the ancient sculptures, found in churches all over Europe, the Christian “Ecclesia” stands proudly, wearing a crown, while the defeated “Synagoga,” is blindfolded by a serpent, her staff broken, her tablets slipping from her hand. The pedestal of the new sculpture bears a quote from Pope Francis, “There exists a rich complementarity between the Church and the Jewish people that allows us to help one another mine the riches of God’s word.”

 Read more. 

From St. Joseph’s website: 

The sculpture is part of the University’s celebration with the Philadelphia Jewish community of the 50th   anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate (Latin for its opening words, “In Our Time”). That 1965 statement repudiated centuries of Christian claims that Jews were blind enemies of God whose spiritual life was obsolete. The document called instead for friendship and dialogue between Catholics and Jews. Shortly after, what was then Saint Joseph’s College became the first American Catholic college to respond to this appeal by establishing the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations. The sculpture will also memorialize the Institute’s work and mission. On numerous medieval cathedrals statues of the female allegorical figures of Church (Ecclesia) and Synagogue (Synagoga) portrayed the triumph of Christianity over Judaism. Ecclesia is crowned, majestic and victorious. Synagoga is defeated and blindfolded, her crown fallen at her feet. “In 1965, Nostra Aetate rejected such images, declaring that Jews are beloved by an ever-faithful God whose promises are irrevocable,” says University President, C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J. ’72.  “The statue of ‘Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time’ will portray Jews and Christians using the medieval figures in a strikingly different way to express Catholic teaching today.” According to Institute Director Philip A. Cunningham, Ph.D., the new sculpture will employ Synagoga and Ecclesia rendered with nobility and grace, to bring to life the words of Pope Francis: “Dialogue and friendship with the Jewish people are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. There exists between us a rich complementarity that allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another mine the riches of God’s word.” The work will depict the figures enjoying studying each other’s sacred texts together. “The sculpture will vividly convey what Pope Francis has called the ‘journey of friendship’ that Jews and Catholics have experienced in the past five decades,” observes Jewish Studies professor and Institute Assistant Director, Adam Gregerman, Ph.D. “We are looking forward to area Jews and Catholics coming together to celebrate the remarkable rapprochement that is occurring.” Artist Joshua Koffman is a Philadelphia-based sculptor known for his expressive and dramatic large-scale bronze sculptures. The recipient of many distinguished awards including the Alex J. Ettl Grant, the John Cavanaugh Memorial Prize, and First Place in the Grand Central Academy’s Sculpture Competition, he pursued formal art education at the University of California, Santa Cruz and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he currently teaches.
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