(JTA) — In what’s being touted as a first for a Jewish organization, the World Jewish Congress advocacy group opened an office in Vatican City to liaise with Catholic leaders and further Catholic-Jewish relations.
WJC President Ronald Lauder visited Pope Francis while inaugurating the organization’s “representative office to the Holy See” on Thursday.
Lauder, a billionaire heir to the Estée Lauder fortune and a longtime Republican donor, presented the pope with a document the WJC called “Kishreinu,” meaning “our bond” in Hebrew. The document “encapsulates the intricate historical and cultural tapestry binding Jewish and Catholic communities around the globe,” the WJC said in a press release.
Upon receiving the document, Pope Francis said: “Our intertwined communities of faith shoulder the sacred duty of weaving a world imbued with brotherhood, challenging inequalities, championing justice and ensuring peace transcends ethereal realms to root firmly in our shared reality.”
Lauder also asked the pope to call on Hamas to free the nearly 200 hostages taken during its attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 — which Pope Francis had done already last week. The WJC president was joined by Claudio Epelman, the organization’s interfaith dialogue commissioner and head of its Latin American branch.
“We ask the Pope to use his power, his strength, to free these hostages,” Lauder said in addressing the pontiff. “You may be the only person with the moral authority to do this. I believe that God, in his own way, has brought us here today to ask this on behalf of all the Jewish people of the world.”
WJC said its “Kishreinu” initiative was a response to Nostra Aetate, the landmark 1965 document that modernized the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church, Judaism and other religions.