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The rabbi who co-founded Saint Leo's interfaith center is getting a major Catholic honor

Lion statue in front of Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University
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Special to WGCU
The investiture ceremony will be conducted at Saint Leo University on Sunday.

Rabbi A. James Rudin has spent much of his life helping to develop respect and understanding among faiths. On Sunday, he will be the third American rabbi bestowed with the Papal Knighthood of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

Rabbi A. James Rudin, co-founder of Saint Leo University’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, has spent much of his life helping to develop respect and understanding among different faiths.

Amid an increase of antisemitism experienced around the world, his work has not gone unrecognized. He will soon receive one of the highest honors conferred by the Catholic Church.

Rudin, will be the third American rabbi to be honored with the Papal Knighthood of the Order of St. Gregory the Great and the first person of the Jewish faith to be granted that honor by Pope Francis.

RabbiRudin_headshot.jpg
Rabbi A. James Rudin is a co-founder of Saint Leo University’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies.

The investiture ceremony will be conducted on behalf of the pope by the Auxiliary Bishop Mark O’Connell of the Archdiocese of Boston. It begins at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Saint Leo Wellness Center, 33701 State Road 52 (Priory Circle).

“For more than 50 years, Rabbi A. James Rudin has worked to advance Catholic-Jewish relations, and interfaith relations on a wider scale, with extraordinary skill, dedication, and success,” said Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of the Boston archdiocese.

The papal knighthood was created by Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 and named for St. Gregory, whose writings in the sixth century greatly influenced the Catholic Church. It is the highest honor the pope bestows in recognition of significant contributions to society.

"It’s really a highlight of both my professional and personal lives," Rudin said. "And it really caps almost over 50 years of work in the field of Christian-Jewish relations. And it's a great, great honor ... to be designated by Pope Francis for this award ... honorary knighthood."

"This is something this is something that came as a surprise to me, and I'm really quite honored to receive it."

Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, director of U.N. Relations and Strategic Partnerships for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, has worked with Rudin in the field of interfaith relations for more than 25 years. He noted that the papal honor, “comes at a crucial time when Jews are under assault around the world, and this knighthood clearly demonstrates the evolving positive relations between Catholics and Jews.”

Rudin said increasing incidents of religious bigotry are part and parcel to the social pathology of antisemitism, which he called the world's oldest social pathology.

"It's a social cancer. And like cancer it can be lethal," Rudin said. "People have, millions have died because of antisemitism, and the object is to eradicate it, to stem it, to put it in remission to use my cancer analogy.”

Rudin said that thoughts of the curtailing of such sentiments after World War II, that antisemitism was under control and no longer a threat to human society, were in error.

"We have discovered in recent years that unfortunately, here in the United States, and in Europe and in other parts of the world, it has again reappeared," he said, adding that this is why Jewish relations and interreligious relations are so important.

"Because much of the source ... of antisemitism comes from religious sources and that has to be eradicated just as you try to eradicate cancer cells in a human being," he said.

Rudin, a Fort Myers resident, is the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, having previously served as its Interreligious Affairs director. He also is a distinguished professor of religion and Judaica at Saint Leo, in addition to establishing the university’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies.

“The Catholic Church was particularly blessed by Rabbi Rudin’s many years of close working relationships with Cardinal John O’Connor in New York and Pope Saint John Paul II,” noted Cardinal O’Malley of Boston. “We are all blessed by Rabbi Rudin’s achievements in promoting dialogue and collaboration among communities of different faiths. The impact of this work continues to grow as successive generations build on the foundation Rabbi Rudin has established.”

Saint Leo is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation with more than 15,800 students. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks and sisters, the Pasco County school is a private, nonprofit university.

Michael Braun