I had the opportunity to view the video of Pope Benedict XVI's last public Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. As I watched it, I was moved by the long standing ovation this pope received and the simple, humble acknowledgement that he provided to his congregants: "Thank you; now, let's return to prayer."
I have followed this pope's career with interest as I had the honor of meeting him in 2005 as part of a Catholic/Jewish clergy delegation traveling to Rome in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate. Noestra Aetate, the formally adopted document that forever changed the history of the Church and its ecumenical relationship with Judaism, repudiated all Christian teachings that antagonized Judaism and the Jewish people. As I observed some of the priests in attendance, I understood their emotions and tears, and it reminded me how much my relationship with priest colleagues has been an invaluable source of continued spiritual inspiration.
As you might imagine, being part of the audience with Pope Benedict -- a great man and a great symbol of Christendom -- left a lasting impression on me. His leading of a "quiet, charismatic" public Mass, where he offered words in Latin, Spanish, Italian, German and English, was especially impressive. And, while it's a memory I will always cherish, I'm quite certain Pope Benedict wasn't thinking about his meeting with "Rabbi Mitch of Greenwich" following our meeting.
The real impact of my visit to Rome in 2005 was the continued and in-depth time I spent with colleagues then, and continue to spend with them now. Nostra Aetate brought the world a new frontier for Jewish-Christian relations. We have always been well aware of our differences; now we formally began to better know our commonalities.
During my 18 years at Temple Sholom, working with priests and ministers from all Christian streams, I have come to appreciate how all clergy struggle with the same issues within our own communities. We each share a concern for the threat of fundamentalist secularism that pulls people away from their sacred roots.
In Rome, I came to know Archbishop Edwin O'Brien who is now Cardinal O'Brien. Cardinal O'Brien gave me the opportunity to spend a full day visiting with American seminary students at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. I participated in several discussions with the students, and enjoyed the earnestness of the young men with whom I met. After our meetings, I asked if these seminary students were having inter-seminary time with different religious seminary students as part of their training. I learned nothing was formally in place. However, soon after, an enhancement to seminary training -- an "inter-seminary" week -- was put in place, and I had the joy to participate in its creation through the Center of Christian and Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University. Through this program, we've tried to encourage seminary students to understand that real strides are made in religious understanding not just through academic study together, but through developing real relationships that allow clergy to meaningfully, and hopefully, permanently connect one with another.
Rome was beautiful and unique. But in the spirit of Pope Benedict's humility, it's not really what religion is all about. We need to express our gratitude for the blessings present within our lives and pray together. Pope Benedict asked people to "continue to pray for me, for the Church, and for the future Pope." He has the prayers not just of his "own" flock, but of the countless people who respect the ideals of ethical monotheism -- that we are all created equally in the image of God and this Divine creation mandates our ethical behavior towards one another and God.
No individual and no institution is free from mistakes. While there is much controversy in the Church, as there is in all institutions, both religious and secular, Pope Benedict was a special individual who helped bring God's light more brightly to the world. He was a worthy successor to the great Pope John Paul II. I pray for you Pope Benedict, for your church, and for the future Pope, as I know you pray for me, and all human beings. May God continue to bless us all.
Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz is senior Rabbi at Temple Sholom of Greenwich, co-founder of the Sholom Center for Interfaith Learning and Fellowship and a past president of the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy. For an archive of past Greenwich Citizen columns, please visit www.templesholom.com.