Pope Francis made a surprise visit to a statue celebrating dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia on Sunday.
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The pope, surrounded by a ring of spectators who flooded the campus upon hearing of his arrival, stood for a few seconds in front of the statue apparently rapt in thought, and then blessed it, splashing it with holy water.
According to the Vatican's spokesman, the visit marked the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, a declaration made by the Second Vatican Council on the relation of the Church with non-Christian religions, among them Judaism. The 1965 declaration, among other things, repudiated the Christian doctrine that the Jews were collectively responsible for Jesus's death and decried anti-Semitism.
In contrast with many statues that portray the relationship between Christianity and Judaism as one of the latter's submission to the former, the Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time statue in Saint Joseph's University shows the two figures conversing on an equal standing.
"This statue is exactly a demonstration of two sisters of the same dignity, the church and the synagogue," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said before the pope's visit, The Huffington Post reported.
After his visit, the pope carried on to lead hundreds of thousands in Mass on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway.