In 1876, when B'nai B'rith was only 33 years old, it commemorated America's centennial celebration by commissioning a statue, Religious Liberty, in Philadelphia that represented tolerance and religious freedom.
Nearly 140 years later, some things never change, as the statue remains a landmark in Philadelphia and B'nai B'rith International continues to promote education, religious freedom and tolerance for all groups.
With Pope Francis scheduled to visit Philadelphia this weekend, and address religious freedom in the vicinity of the statue, Religious Liberty was the subject of an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Read excerpts from the paper, below:
A statue representing religious freedom and immigration stands at the site where Pope Francis will deliver a speech on those themes.
It stood in Fairmount Park for more than 100 years before being moved to the grounds of the Jewish history museum in 1986. In 2010, the statue was moved again, down the block to the museum's current location on Fifth Street and Market.
The statue was crafted by prominent Jewish sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. He was the first Jewish cadet to attend the the Virginia Military Institute.
Ezekiel carved the sculpture from Carrara marble - Michelangelo used the same marble for his Pieta.
"The place to go to study was Italy, even [for] Moses, who was the first big American Jewish sculptor," said Cheryl Kempler, B'nai B'rith's archivist.
Immigration is an important topic for both the Pope and B'nai B'rith, according to Daniel Mariaschin, B'nai B'rith international executive vice president.
Mariaschin said B'nai B'rith sent a delegation to the Vatican in June to discuss with the pope religious liberty and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
"Our organization grew in this country as a result of immigration," Mariaschin said. "The pope's visit, with all this coming together, it is important."
B'nai B'rith International and multinational leaders met with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican.
B'nai B'rith’s was the first international Jewish audience with the pope since the Vatican announced an agreement on church issues with “the State of Palestine,” and the pope separately acknowledged non-recognition of Israel as amounting to anti-Semitism.
Before he was known around the world at Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio hosted B’nai B’rith’s Kristallnacht commemoration in Buenos Aires in 2012.
Learn more about the latest visit from the international media coverage recap, below:
I am pleased to greet you during your visit to the Vatican. My predecessors met with delegations of B’nai B’rith International on several occasions, and today I offer you my welcome with renewed respect and affection.
Your organization has enjoyed relations with the Holy See since the promulgation of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate. This document constituted a milestone on the path of mutual knowledge and esteem between Jews and Catholics, based on the great spiritual patrimony that, thanks be to God, we share in common.
Looking back on these fifty years of regular dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism, I cannot help but thank the Lord for the great progress that has been made. Many initiatives fostering reciprocal understanding and dialogue have been undertaken; above all a sense of mutual trust and appreciation has developed. There are many areas in which we as Jews and Christians can continue to work together for the good of the peoples of our time. Respect for life and creation, human dignity, justice and solidarity unite us for the development of society and for securing a future rich in hope for generations to come. In a particular way, we are called to pray and work together for peace. Unfortunately, there are many countries and regions of the world that live in situations of conflict – I think in particular of the Holy Land and the Middle East – and that require a courageous commitment to peace, which is not only to be longed for, but sought after and built up patiently and tenaciously by everyone, especially believers.
During these moments together, I wish to recall with heartfelt gratitude all those who have fostered friendship between Jews and Catholics. I particularly want to mention Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II. Saint John saved many Jews during the Second World War, met with them numerous times, and greatly desired a conciliar document on this theme. Regarding Saint John Paul, his various historical gestures remain very much alive in our memories, such as his visit to Auschwitz and to the Great Synagogue of Rome. With the help of God, I wish to walk in their footsteps, encouraged too by the many beautiful encounters and friendships I enjoyed in Buenos Aires.
May the Almighty and Eternal One bless our dialogue abundantly, especially during this year in which we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, so that our friendship may always grow deeper and bear abundant fruit for our communities and the entire human family.
During Pope Francis' historic visit to Israel and the Middle East last week, he was greeted by a delegation at the Western Wall that included B'nai B'rith International director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels.
Michaels had a front-row view for many of the meetings and greetings during the two-day visit, and was a quoted source in a Q&A published in The Jewish Week after the trip.
Read an excerpt below and click through for the full story:
Also in Israel for the visit was David Michaels, director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs for B’nai B’rith International. He pointed out also that there was a diversity of religious leaders at the presidential residence — including Muslims who knelt in prayer.
There were leaders of the Hindu faith, Sufis among the Muslim leaders, Sikhs, Christian Orthodox leaders and many others in the audience. That to me signaled that the pope is universally admired, and that people are very hopeful that he may be able to achieve a greater level of comity among the different faiths.
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