Israel’s Knesset honours St John XXIII

In an unprecedented event, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has held a special session to commemorate St John XXIII.

During the Second World War, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli’s efforts are believed to have helped save thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps

Archbishop Roncalli was elected Pope in 1958 and took the name John XXIII.

His pontificate lasted five years until his death in 1963.

While serving in Istanbul during the war, he distributed documents and papers to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and seeking to make their way to Palestine.

Archbishop Roncalli sent thousands of such documents to the Vatican’s ambassador in Budapest, Angelo Ratti, who was working with diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and others to save Jews from the Holocaust.

Archbishop Roncalli made available thousands of Baptism certificates without conditions.

He made it clear that this action to save Jews did not make a single Jew a Catholic.

On May 13, Knesset members also praised St John XXIII for laying the groundwork for Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate, which was instrumental in improving Jewish and Catholic relationships.

The declaration repudiated former claims against the Jewish people, principally that they were guilty of Jesus’ death.

“John XXIII should serve as an example for all men of the need to bring together peoples of different races, faiths and beliefs,” former immigration and absorption minister Yair Tzeven said.

Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog spoke of the encounters between his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak Hertzog, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Archbishop Roncalli.

“When the news from Europe first reached my grandfather, he did everything to save Jews,” Mr Herzog said.

“As part of these efforts, he met many times with Roncalli and stated that at these meetings the archbishop wept.

“John XXIII made tremendous efforts to save Jews, and because of him thousands of Jews were indeed saved.”

“He helped the Jewish people in every way through a deep feeling of responsibility,” Mr Herzog continued.

“He was not afraid of taking responsibility, unlike the pope at the time of the Holocaust.”

On April 27, Pope Francis declared Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II to be saints.


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