The Pope and Reform Judaism Leader Discuss Refugees in Rare Vatican Meeting

'He blessed me in Italian and I blessed him in Hebrew,' Rabbi Rick Jacobs says of meeting in which inter-religious dialogue and Mideast peace were raised

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Wednesday General Audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, May 17, 2017.
Reuters/ Max Rossi

Pope Francis met with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism at the Vatican on Friday.

The influential Catholic leader invited the head of the largest Jewish movement in North America to discuss his involvement in the Religions for Peace group, which consists of religious leaders from across the world who work together to promote religious tolerance.

According to a URJ statement, the rare 20-minute meeting, which took place at the same desk the Pope had met U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, was used to discuss inter-religious dialogue, assisting refugees and immigrants, and Middle East peace.

"We discussed refugees and migrants," Jacobs said after the meeting. "We shared our respective concerns about the US Administration’s approach to immigration in particular. I told him that I hoped that his meeting with President Trump would have an impact on that and other issues." The Pope has consistently denied attempts by various governments to stop refugees from entering their countries, and has been a leading voice on the issue in recent years. 

Jacobs added that the reform movement applauds the Pope's efforts to promote a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution. At the end of the meeting, he said, the two prayed together - "He blessed me in Italian and I blessed him in Hebrew." This was the first time the two religious leaders have met. 

U.S. President Donald Trump had met with Pope Francis, one of his most high profile critics, at the Vatican on Wednesday.

"We thought that this trip was essential to put together the Muslim faith, the Jewish faith and then the Catholic faith, the Christian faith," said a senior White House official about the Vatican meeting.

"By putting everybody together you can really build a coalition and show that it's not a Muslim problem, it's not a Jewish problem, it's not a Catholic problem, it's not a Christian problem, it really is a world problem," the official said.