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the five priests introduced vari-
ous groups who had come to the
audience. An excited group of
Japanese pilgrims stood and sang
an enchanting Oriental melody.
A group from Korea gave what
sounded like a cheer from a foot-
ball game, but the pope loved it.
A Neapolitan church group had
its local trumpeter play Schubert's
"Ava Maria," and so on. At the
end of the greetings, His Holiness
rose and led the gathering in
The formal audience was the-
oretically over, but the occasion
suddenly renewed itself as the
pope personally received with
great affection a class of elemen-
tary school children from an ob-
viously poor neighborhood in
Rome. He then gave his blessing
to three young couples who had
just been married. Men and
women in wheelchairs and on
crutches were brought up to be
And then, to my total surprise,
I was led up to meet him one-on-
one, along with others in my row.
As I stood there wearing my Jew-
ish skullcap, we held each other's
hands. As I looked in his intense
eyes, I sensed a genuine warmth.
I extended Cardinal Keeler's
This pope is
odds with millions of
blessings and he thanked me for
coming, saying he was grateful to
have met me. Contrary to recent
news reports, his complexion was
vibrant and ruddy, and he ap-
peared to be in quite vigorous
After I left the Vatican that
day, I paid a previously-planned
visit to the Great Synagogue on
Lungotevere Cenci. While there
I began to reflect on what an as-
tonishing century we have lived
through, both good and bad.
What impacted upon me, above
all, was the realization that, at its
center, the Roman Catholic faith
reverberates with the spiritual
power of the papacy. This pope is
theologically at odds with millions
of his followers, but his populari-
ty — and the respect he com-
mands — are genuine. Would
that we Jews had a similar reli-
gious center that could help us
transcend our conflicts even while
The world today is different
from what it was a century ago.
This is due in no small measure
to men and women of goodwill
who have been unafraid to be self-
> critical and reflective as to how to
transform the tragic past into a
hopeful future. Despite the man-
ifest imperfections of this world,
there are still reasons to be hope-
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