Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, paid a rare public visit to the city's Jewish community last week to discuss Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to Israel, as well as the state of Jewish-Catholic relations in Philadelphia.
Rigali, who's held the post since 2003, avoided mention of some of the more controversial topics roiling Jewish-Catholic relations in recent months, such as the pope's lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop last winter or criticisms over elements of Benedict's recent trip to Israel this spring.
In a brief interview before his July 9 presentation to about 80 people gathered at the Jewish Community Services Building in Philadelphia, he attributed the flare-ups to media reporting, saying that the news doesn't always offer a proper context or understanding of the situation at hand.
He also noted that Benedict's dealings with Israel and the Jews were a continuation of his predecessor's work. Pope John Paul II enjoyed strong relations with the global Jewish community.
The cardinal highlighted the pope's emphasis during his Israel trip on the common bonds among monotheistic religions.
He also emphasized Benedict's remarks targeted at anti-Semitism, in addition to the importance of his visit to sites such as Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem.
Rigali's visit was a joint venture by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and a number of other organizations from both faiths.
Referring to the visit, attorney Lee Bender of Wynnewood, a member of the JCRC board, said that although "it's taken a long time for this to happen," the cardinal's face time with the Jewish community goes a long way toward further solidifying relations.
He said that the image of Rigali standing before the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia logo — flanked by the American and Israeli flags — sent a message in and of itself.